What is OCD? Is it being organized? Being a neat freak? In reality, it’s none of these things. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a complex mental illness that is far more than just being organized. The National Institute of Mental Health defines OCD as “a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” This mental illness is commonly taken as just someone being very organized and is often not taken as a serious mental disorder. Both locally and across the country, the stereotype and stigma around OCD need to be diminished.
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OCD Myths and Misconceptions
Over the years, OCD has built up a huge stigma and been stereotyped to be less than a serious mental illness. These are some common misconceptions about OCD.
- Everyone with OCD is clean and organized.
- Everyone is a little bit “OCD”.
- People with OCD just need to control themselves.
- People with OCD are “weird” or “quirky”
- People with OCD don’t realize that they are acting irrationally.
- OCD is something to joke about
Signs and Symptoms
- Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors
- Fear of contamination or dirt
- Need to have items organized or symmetrical
- Unwanted taboo thoughts
- Fear of touching things that others have touched
- Double checking things such as turning off the stove or locking the door
- Intense stress caused by disorderly things
- Distress about unpleasant sexual images/thoughts occurring
Issues in Society
The phrases “OMG I’m so OCD about that” and “wow are you OCD or something” are commonly heard around my school. This is just one look into just how normalized OCD has become due to our society. Everyone wants to be perfect, and one common symptom is arranging things to seem “satisfying” or “perfect.” OCD has become something that makes you cool or
Societal pressure is one of the main reasons OCD is not looked at as a serious mental illness. While it can completely change someone’s life, people now, especially teens, see it just as rearranging things and something that can be controlled. Search Instagram for OCD, and you get post after post of satisfying videos and pictures. If someone seems extra organized, people call them OCD. I am naturally an organized person in many aspects of my life, which leads to comments from friends about how I’m “so OCD.” In order for OCD to be taken seriously, this stigma needs to be dissipated and society needs to realize that it is an illness, not a trend.
Images like this one appear all over the internet as “satisfying ocd” images. This only supports the idea that having OCD is cool or satisfying, when in reality it is not.
History of OCD
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder used to be known as Obsessive Compulsive Neurosis. It is common and has affected people among all cultures and communities throughout history. There are clear cases of OCD dating all the way back to the 14th century,
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Martin Luther is best known as the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. It was believed that he suffered from OCD. His protégé, Philip Melanchthon described his symptoms as “terrors he experienced either for the first
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Scientist Charles Darwin was suspected to have suffered from OCD and anxiety. His mother died quickly and without explanation, and this tragic event severely affected him and possibly lead to his OCD and anxiety. He had obsessive thoughts that he could not block out, writing “I could not sleep and whatever I did in the day haunted me at night with vivid and most wearing repetition.” Additionally, he was his own worst critic and always needed reassurance. He was known to repeat “I have worked as hard as I could, and no man can do more than this” to himself over and over, which was likely part of an OCD compulsion.
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla was an accomplished scientist who is best known for his design of the modern AC unit. His symptoms of OCD started around the age of 61 when he became obsessed with the number 3. He did things such as swimming 33 laps, circling the block three times before entering a building, and only leaving by turning right out of the door. Tesla also had a very strict schedule. He worked from 9:00am – 6:00pm, ate dinner at 8:10pm, and worked until 3:00am. Before bed, he would curl his toes 100 times. The next symptom that affected him was the fear of germs. He would polish every utensil, used 3 cloth napkins beside his plate, used 18 napkins during each meal, he would only stay in a hotel room with a number divisible by three and lived in room 3327 on the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel for the last 10 years of his life. He counted his jaw movements when chewing food, and estimated the weight of his meal before starting to eat. He became so obsessed with avoiding germs that he wouldn’t shake hands when meeting people and wouldn’t touch anyone’s hair.
Therapists/Mental Health Professionals – If you are concerned you have OCD, go to a mental health professional. OCD cannot be self-diagnosed and must be diagnosed by a licensed professional.
The IOCDF has a lot of general information about OCD, as well as educational resources, events supporting OCD, and an OCD advocacy program. It can also be useful to find a local support group.
The Peace of Mind Foundation has educational resources, volunteering options, targeted resources for kids and college students, treatment examples, and a specific section for hope while living with OCD.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope that you learned some more information about OCD and work towards reducing the stigma and stereotypes surrounding this serious mental illness! – Sarah