Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a serious mental illness that is often misunderstood by mental health professionals and the general public. Misconceptions are often due to misrepresentation in the mainstream media, including those in TV shows and movies. In the US alone, 1 in 100 adults are believed to be affected.
It is generally believed that the symptoms of OCD include excessive hand washing and double-checking the house multiple times before you head out, but this illness is a lot more complicated than that. There are two components of OCD: the behavior and the compulsive behaviors. Here are some myths about this illness that are simply not true.
Myth 1: Having behaviors like washing your hands repeatedly means you have OCD
Diagnosing someone with OCD is a complex process. It does not necessarily included checking to see if they are germaphobes or if they make sure the oven is turned off repeatedly before leaving home. Those with OCD become debilitated from the disease. Their lives at home, work, and school become increasingly hard to manage. They are plagued constantly with anxiety-ridden thoughts and obsessions and feel that it is necessary to perform certain tasks in a certain way in order to prevent something terrible from happening.
Myth 2: Everyone with OCD practices compulsive hand washing
In popular culture, it may seem like hand washing is the definitive symptom of OCD, but there are in fact many other symptoms that can manifest as well. Wearing a mask everywhere due to fear of contamination or a constant fear that they will hurt someone are two other possible symptoms of OCD. Preoccupations with certain numbers or patterns is one more symptom that can show up in someone suffering from this illness. Not every individual with OCD will be alike in their symptoms, and it is important not to generalize them as one large group.
Myth 3: Individuals with OCD do not know that they are acting irrationally
It is a common misconception that those suffering from OCD are not aware of their irregular behaviors. In fact, it is completely the opposite. They are well-aware of their condition and this misconception only creates more anxiety for them because they don’t know how to stop their behaviors or thought processes. There is a feeling of being crazy because they feel that they are trapped. Discussing these thoughts with their therapist, along with the right combination of medications, is the right step towards recovery.
Myth 4: OCD is a result of a dysfunctional childhood
There is a widespread belief that individuals who develop OCD got it from having a difficult childhood, but this is simply not true. Events that happened when you were a child have little correlation with developing this illness later on in life. The only way family does play a role in OCD is through a possible link in genetics.
Myth 5: OCD cannot be treated
There is a misguided belief that once a person is diagnosed with OCD, they are incurable. The first step to treatment is exposure and response prevention therapy—a type of therapy that helps you to face your fears. After this intitial step, the right combination of behavioral therapy and medication can help with a full recovery.
Myth 6: OCD happens only in adults
It is estimated that 1 in 200 children have OCD and that the youngest age a child can develop the illness is 4 years old. This statistic is around the same number for children with diabetes, which is considered an increasingly more common and problematic childhood illness. In an average-sized elementary school, 4 to 5 children will have OCD. In a high school that has a medium-to-large student body, you are likely to find 20 students with this debilitating illness.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com