OCD Isn’t a Cute Quirk, So Stop Trivializing It

OCD is as debilitating as any other mental illness.

May is Mental Health Awareness month. As someone living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I think this month is the perfect time to set people straight about what this disorder actually is, considering many people (and companies) seem to have no idea — we’re looking at you, Target, with your “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” sweatshirt.

Here are things you should know about OCD before you go and use it as an adjective to describe your quirks.

OCD isn’t just about hygiene or organization— The disorder can manifest in a myriad of different ways. People with OCD can experience compulsive checking, hoarding, intrusive thoughts, ritualistic behavior, and other types of symptoms many may not understand.

OCD can present itself similar to ADHD and Autism — OCD and ADHD are found as abnormal brain activities in the same neural circuit, according to Dr. Amitai Abramovitch. Though both mental illnesses spark different types of brain activity, the effects are quite similar in terms of things like response inhibition, task switching, planning, working memory, and decision-making. Because of these behavioral similarities in both OCD and ADHD, many young people are misdiagnosed, which can lead to more problems. The same goes for Autism — though many people with Autism also experience the repetitive and ritualistic behaviors associated with OCD, they experience them for different reasons. People with Autism can find comfort and solace in such behaviors, thus helping them overall. Meanwhile, those with OCD can find temporary relief from anxiety in ritualistic behaviors, but it often traps them in a cycle and does nothing to address the core of their anxieties.

OCD often lives alongside other mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even Tourette’s syndrome — According to Stanford University, “Patients with OCD are at high risk of having comorbid (co-existing) major depression and other anxiety disorders. In a series of 100 OCD patients who were evaluated by means of a structured psychiatric interview, the most common concurrent disorders were: major depression (31%), social phobia (11%), eating disorder (8%), simple phobia (7%), panic disorder (6%), and Tourette’s syndrome (5%).”

Symptoms of OCD start displaying themselves in childhood or adolescence — The OCD Center of Los Angeles states that childhood-onset OCD is quite common, affecting 1% of all children. Additionally, research has shown that about half of all adults with OCD started experiencing symptoms in their childhood.

Childhood-onset OCD can be linked to genetics — There have been 15 family studies of OCD, and most have found that “the age-corrected morbid risk of ‘broadly defined OCD’ (i.e., OCD plus sub-syndromal obsessive-compulsive symptoms) was substantially greater in the parents of OCD probands as compared to those of controls (16% vs 3%).” Even though genetics can play a factor in OCD, environmental causes (such as trauma) can also play a part in the emergence of the disorder.

OCD can often cause isolation — it is a disorder that can cause many people to face inward and suffer alone. Because of how time-consuming many OCD rituals can be, many people living with OCD become exhausted quicker and are thus unable to enjoy social activities. The pressure to socialize can even trigger someone with OCD to complete more rituals. Additionally, family members of someone with OCD can sometimes harbor resentment for the mentally ill individual as they feel embarrassed by their obsessive and compulsive behaviors. For school-aged children and young adults especially, OCD can affect their social interactions due to the fear of how they will be perceived amongst their peers.

Psychedelic mushrooms have been used in studies of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — A study done by the University of Arizona administered small doses of psilocybin (the naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain mushrooms) to nine patients with OCD. The results found that all nine patients saw a decrease in their symptoms. Organizations such as MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) are leading the way in this field of research.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental illness. Yet many people with OCD are fed up with how trivialized the disorder is seen in mainstream culture. OCD is as debilitating as any other mental illness. It’s not cute or funny, like Monica Geller from Friends may have made it seem.

Featured Image David Rymn Creative Commons