Why is There a Stigma Around OCD?
Have you ever heard of OCD? Chances are you have, but do you really understand what it is and what it feels like to live with the condition day in and day out? Probably not. Can you imagine the emotional and sometimes physical pain that accompanies OCD? The truth is OCD is no myth or joke. It is also not a term to use to make a point or make yourself feel “superior” to others. OCD is a real condition – one that deserves accuracy, compassion, and respect. Unfortunately, there is often an inaccurate and unfair stigma attached to OCD. Thus, the goal of this article is to de-stigmatize OCD by promoting OCD awareness, through fair and accurate information and representation.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a “type” of anxiety condition that involves non-stop and repetitive intrusive thoughts, images, beliefs, urges, images, doubts, fears, emotions (obsessions), and/or behaviors (compulsions). There are several “types” of obsessions and compulsions, such as contamination OCD, harm OCD, checking OCD, pedophilia OCD (POCD), relationship OCD (ROCD), perfectionism or “just right” OCD, meta-OCD, existential OCD (obsessions), and/or excessively checking, cleaning, organizing, avoiding, seeking reassurance, etc.
Although, the term. “OCD” is often thrown around like a “weapon,” it is not. It is a “real” condition that can be devastating and life-altering. In other words, it is not a “laughing matter.” And, being diagnosed with OCD, does not mean that you are “crazy” or “defective,” or anything of the sort. OCD is a mental health condition, just like diabetes is a physical health condition.
OCD and diabetes are both health conditions that warrant a proper diagnosis and a customized treatment plan. And, they both deserve to be taken seriously. There should never be a stigma associated with any health condition, including OCD. Although some labels are necessary for a proper diagnosis and treatment, they should never be used as “punishment.”
What Causes OCD?
Although 1-2% of people grapple with OCD, the exact cause varies. For instance, some people develop OCD because of previous trauma, while others may develop it due to environmental exposure or for biological or genetic reasons.
As a result, it is often hard to pinpoint why some people develop the condition, and others do not. Some researchers believe there is one single cause of OCD (i.e., genetics), while others believe there are many causes of OCD. Studies suggest that a personal or family history of mental illness, such as anxiety conditions, depression, or other mental health conditions like schizophrenia increase one’s susceptibility to OCD.
Moreover, one or more losses (i.e., the death of a loved one, friend, pet, divorce, or abandonment), or any stressful event can also increase one’s risk of developing OCD. Basically, any event that causes a person to experience a “loss of control” can be a catalyst for OCD. However, keep in mind that not everyone, who experiences the factors listed above will develop OCD.
How is OCD Treated?
OCD is treated in a variety of ways, but the most common way is through a combination of OCD therapies and/or medications (i.e., SSRI antidepressants). The most common OCD therapy is exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP therapy is a subtype of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is designed to alter your thinking patterns, so you will see your thoughts, fears, images, emotions, and urges differently. The theory is that if you can change a person’s thinking patterns, their behaviors will also change.
The theory of ERP therapy is that if you expose a person to their “trigger(s)” enough, they will lose their power, and you will no longer feel compelled to behave in a certain way. Another common OCD therapy is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which suggests that if you can stay centered, and focused on the present, you can make meaningful changes in your life.
Other OCD treatments may include lifestyle changes, natural remedies, CBD, vitamin and mineral supplements, OCD workbooks and books, mindfulness meditation, TMS therapy, yoga, journaling, healthy coping skills, and self-help tools, like Impulse Therapy, an online OCD treatment group.
Stigma? What is That?
Stigma is characterized as “the stain of disgrace, shame, or dishonor, or a damaged reputation. It is also described as a mental or physical “imperfection” linked to a “defect” or “disease.” When someone is “stigmatized,” people tend to view it or him or her with disgust. More specifically, the individual is criticized, judged, and/or shamed – because of “something.”
For instance, a person may be stigmatized because he or she has a mental illness, like OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc., or has a physical illness or disability, like obesity, hypertension, etc. Or, he or she may be stigmatized because he or she is an addict, LGBTQ+, atheist, Mormon, has tattoos, dresses Goth, etc.
Although, there are many ways that people can be stigmatized, one of the most common reasons is due to an illness, especially mental illnesses. People with mental health conditions, like OCD, are often viewed as “inferior,” “defective,” “disabled,” “unpredictable,” and/or “weak.” The best way to eliminate stigmas is through education, awareness, and inclusion. When people learn more about a condition or person, they are less likely to prejudge and “stigmatize” them.
Are There Stigmas Linked to OCD?
Unfortunately, there are stigmas linked to OCD.
The main reason OCD is surrounded by various stigmas is that it is often misunderstood. It is common for society to view OCD as an “eccentric” or quirky” personality characteristic, or as a “mood” that someone can easily “snap out of.” That is not true. OCD is not a “trait” or a “mood.” It is a mental health condition that requires a diagnosis, treatment, and support. When this condition, like any other condition, is not properly treated, it can lead to worsening OCD symptoms over time.
Unfair and inaccurate OCD stigmas can make it hard for people, who struggle with the condition. It can also deter people from seeking OCD help, which is why it is essential to break down the myths and misconceptions linked to OCD.
One of the primary problems with removing the stigma surrounding OCD is that it is often portrayed in the media (i.e., movies, television shows, books, video games, etc.) as a “joke” or something that is not taken seriously. Stigmas make it harder for people, who suffer from OCD to get the help, support, and treatment they need to have happy and productive lives.
Thus, it is important to remember that OCD is a real mental health condition with life-altering consequences. OCD symptoms can be so debilitating that they can lead to low self-esteem and self-confidence, loss of employment and debt, social isolation, depression, anxiety, broken friendships and relationships, and in severe cases, suicide.
What Stigmas Are Associated With OCD?
It is common for people with OCD to fear being stigmatized at work, at home, and in their friendships and romantic relationships. These individuals tend to worry about being “shunned,” “judged,” and/or “mistreated” because they have been diagnosed or “labeled” as having OCD. This is not only severely painful but also extremely detrimental to these individuals – in many areas of their lives.
Stigmas and labels can prevent OCD sufferers from seeking OCD help and sharing their concerns, worries, fears, thoughts, and behaviors with others. Keep in mind, that stigmas have prevented OCD sufferers from obtaining loans and health insurance, and increased the odds of school and/or workplace discrimination when it comes to pay, opportunities, and promotions.
Listed below are internal and external OCD stigmas that can negatively affect one’s life:
Internal OCD Stigmas
- “There is something terribly wrong with me – no one else has a problem getting non-stop and repetitive thoughts out of his or he head. Nope, I am the only one because I am seriously flawed.”
- “No one is ever going to love me, and who could blame them? I am ‘nuts.’”
- “If other people find out that I have OCD they will no longer want to be around me.”
- “People like me do not ‘deserve’ to be a part of a ‘normal’ society.”
- “If my boss finds out I have OCD, I will get fired from my job.”
- “I will never be a productive member of society.”
- “I will never be happy because my OCD will never allow me to be happy.”
- “I will probably never be a parent.”
- “No one will allow me to foster or adopt a child because I am ‘crazy.’”
- “No one will ever love or marry me because I have a mental health condition.”
External OCD Stigmas
- “Whoa! He or she is ‘crazy.’”
- “I do not feel comfortable around that person because he or she is ‘OCD.’”
- “People with OCD simply are not ‘mentally capable’ of performing job duties.”
- “There is no way I could ever date a person with OCD because they would drive me ‘crazy’ with their weird thoughts and behaviors.”
- “People with OCD are weird and unstable.”
- “People with mental illnesses, like OCD, are violent.”
- “People with OCD are unable to take proper care of their children.”
Can OCD Stigmas Be Stopped?
Yes, OCD stigmas can be stopped.
As mentioned above, OCD is a real mental health condition that affects millions of people throughout the world. The most thing to understand is that having OCD is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. In other words, “OCD” is not a “dirty word” that should be treated as taboo and only spoken about in private – if at all.
Even if many in society view mental health conditions, like OCD, as taboo, it is important to talk about it because if we, as a society, do not, it will only cause the unfair and inaccurate stigmas to fester and spread. Thus, it is important to promote OCD awareness by starting the conversation and providing the most accurate OCD information to as many people as possible.
Media representations of OCD can, and often do, create and worsen the stigmas surrounding OCD. People often believe what they see in the media and press, which prevents OCD sufferers from receiving the help, treatment, and support needed to help have the lives they have always envisioned. Because of these inaccurate portrayals, these individuals continue to suffer in silence. And, because “OCD” is often the “butt of jokes” and mispresented, it makes life harder for those, who suffer from the condition.
Another misconception is that people with mental health conditions, like OCD, have a certain “look.” For instance, many people envision that a person with OCD is “wild-looking” with disheveled hair and clothes, and rambling speech. The truth is a person with OCD looks like you and me.
In other words, an OCD sufferer may be your neighbor, your best friend, co-worker, peer, family member, mailman, doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. Because OCD sufferers can be anyone, it can make it harder for others to believe that OCD is a serious condition – although it is. What does this do? It prevents people with the condition from opening up and sharing their OCD struggles with other people.
When these individuals do open up and share their OCD struggles with others, unsolicited advice, jokes, unwanted opinions, and insensitive comments only further increase the secrecy and misinformation surrounding OCD. Thus, it is time to start talking about OCD and disbanding the myths associated with it. In other words, it is time to start breaking down the stigmas surrounding OCD. Together, we can break down OCD stigmas, and support those, who struggle with this condition!
How Can OCD Stigmas Be Stopped?
The best way to stop OCD stigmas is through awareness. In other words, the key to breaking down OCD stigmas is to educate the masses about OCD. The good news is there are plenty of resources, books, articles, information, and tools that can help the public better understand what OCD is and is not (i.e., definition, causes, symptoms, effects, risk factors, and treatments). OCD therapists are also valuable assets when it comes to removing unfair and inaccurate OCD labels and stigmas. The thing that OCD sufferers need most is support, resources, and empathy.
Another goal is to eliminate the shame and guilt associated with mental health conditions, like OCD. People, who have OCD, should not feel embarrassed, “crazy,” or “defective” because they have an illness. Millions of people throughout the world suffer from some “type” of illness, from diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, or asthma to anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, etc. So, there is nothing to be ashamed of. What we need to do is to encourage people to seek help for their conditions, regardless of what it is.
We can also break the stigma of OCD by donating to OCD organizations, and by working to promote OCD awareness to our friends, loved ones, and others in our communities. Starting those difficult, but necessary conversations, offering support for OCD sufferers and becoming an OCD advocate are important ways to can promote accurate OCD information and support those with the condition. Supporting people with OCD requires not only physical actions but using your “voice” to stop unfair and inaccurate OCD stigmas in their tracks.
An extremely important way you can help break down OCD stigmas is to listen. Listen to people, who live with OCD every day. What hurts them? What helps them? What they want others to know about them and their condition? How others can help? And, what is needed to break down OCD stigmas?
People with OCD often just need a judgmental person to listen to them – that is all. These individuals constantly feel ostracized and judged, so people that support and listen to them can make a world of difference.
- Mahjani, B., Bey, K., Boberg, J., & Burton, C. (2021). Genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychological Medicine, 51(13), 2247–2259. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291721001744
- Grisham, J. R., Anderson, T. M., & Sachdev, P. S. (2008). Genetic and environmental influences on obsessive-compulsive disorder. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 258(2), 107–116. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-007-0789-0
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd