By Catherine Kong
In the media, the term “OCD” has commonly been used as an adjective to describe an individual’s obsession with perfection and organization. Rather than a detrimental disorder, OCD is portrayed as a quirky personality trait, characterized by color-coordinating pens, tidy rooms, and neat writing. However, the reality for individuals affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is very different, and the need to attain a certain sense of safety and perfection becomes an obsession for them, interfering with relationships, jobs, school, and all parts of everyday life.
In contrast to its superficial portrayal in popular culture, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a chronic, debilitating mental disorder where affected individuals have unreasonable obsessions and feel the need to complete compulsions as a response.
Obsessions are repeated fears, thoughts, or urges that cause anxiety, and come in a variety of different forms. For instance, a common obsession associated with OCD is contamination fears. For an individual not affected by OCD, they may experience occasional fleeting worries about germs and wash their hands one additional time out of precaution. On the other hand, people affected by OCD are consumed by their fears of germs (the obsession) and suffer from extreme anxiety until they have washed their hands multiple times repeatedly and felt as if they have eradicated the risk completely (the compulsion)
In such a manner, a brain affected by OCD is similar to a broken record; it gets stuck on a single intrusive thought and repeats the cycle of obsessions and compulsions over and over again.
Trapped in this cycle, people with OCD often struggle to complete simple tasks or choose to avoid them. Some spend hours completing their compulsions and cannot attend work, school, or activities, while others can but continue to suffer from anxiety and distress throughout their day. When people cannot complete their jobs or focus on receiving an education, not only are their futures harmed, but those with families can find it hard to support their children and are burdened by financial issues. Certain types of OCD are especially harmful to relationships and even lead to divorce and separation. Finally, those affected by OCD are at a higher risk of developing depression, other anxiety disorders, and other mental illnesses. When coupled with the symptoms of these additional mental disorders, OCD typically results in a diminished quality of life and severe mental distress.
It is extremely dangerous to assume mental disorders such as OCD are less serious or harmful than physical conditions.
Although today’s society is improving on spreading awareness about these disorders, the lack of education on mental health topics is still a common occurrence even in the United States. While physical conditions are taught across all health education classes, only around twenty states in the United States require teachers to cover mental health in their curriculums. As a result, many people with mental disorders never receive a diagnosis for their disorder because they are unaware their behavior is unhealthy or unusual. For instance, a child with OCD whose obsessions and compulsions are mentally performed may believe their thoughts are normal. Furthermore, their parents cannot tell they have OCD because they show no physical symptoms, and the child is unlikely to receive the treatment they need. And even for others who have been diagnosed, they may not seek treatment because they do not know how severe their disorder is and its tremendous impact on their lives. Luckily, this is changing.
More states are prioritizing mental health education for their children with depression rates on the rise, and through social media, people are able to educate themselves and spread awareness on these topics. After years of hiding mental illness in the dark, the future is brighter than ever for those affected by OCD, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.