Busting 5 Myths about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it can be hard to feel like your experiences are understood by others. Sometimes, even people who love you the most don’t fully understand what you’re going through, and I am guessing that this contributes to feeling so alone and ashamed. Unfortunately, OCD is still widely misunderstood and stigmatized in our society, leading many people to suffer in silence.
That's why today, we're going to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about OCD and share with you what a mental health professional really wants you to know. Whether you're someone struggling with OCD yourself or simply want to learn more to support a loved one, this blog post is for you!
Here are five things that mental health professionals want you to know about OCD:
1. OCD is just about being clean, neat, and organized.
False. When many people think of OCD, they often associate it with being extremely clean and organized and the behaviors that people engage in, such as hand washing or having extremely neat, organized, and sparse homes. While it’s true that some individuals with OCD may struggle with these compulsive behaviors, it is important to recognize that OCD is not solely about cleanliness and orderliness - and not just the behaviors. OCD is a complex and multifaceted disorder that can manifest in a variety of ways. Individuals with OCD struggle with intrusive thoughts or obsessions about various themes. These recurrent and persistent thoughts are intrusive and unwanted. Some examples of obsessions are:
Fears of harm to themselves or others (e.g., harm from illness, accidents or death.)
Excessive worries regarding being responsible
Intrusive thoughts and images about sex or violence
Intrusive thoughts and images of violence or aggression
Excessive worries about religious issues or morality
Fears of germs or contamination
In addition to the obsessions (intrusive, recurrent, persistent, and unwanted thoughts and images), people with OCD will engage in compulsions to attempt to cope with the obsessions. These compulsive behaviors are repetitive and ritualistic actions that are excessive, time-consuming, and distressing. Some examples of compulsions are:
excessive cleaning and washing
excessive checking (e.g., locks, electrical and gas appliances, and other things associated with safety)
Repeating routine activities (eg., re-reading, re-writing, opening and shutting a door)
Constantly asking questions or seeking reassurance
Replacing a ‘bad thought’ with a ‘good thought’.
These obsessions and compulsions experienced by people with OCD can be incredibly distressing and disruptive to their daily lives.
Obsessions can be difficult to control or cope with and may lead to ritualistic behaviors or mental acts, the compulsions, in attempts to find peace. By recognizing that OCD is not just about being clean and organized, we can better understand and support individuals who are struggling with this disorder. Using the term OCD lightly can undermine the severity of the disorder and contribute to stigma and misunderstandings.
2: If you just try hard enough, you can control your thoughts and behaviors.
False. One of the most persistent and damaging misconceptions about OCD is that it's just a matter of willpower and self-control. People with OCD are often told that they just need to "stop worrying" or "calm down" or "think positively." Or even worse, asked "why"... "Why do you check the door locks so many times?" Unfortunately, this advice and questioning completely misses the point of what OCD is all about.
The truth is that people with OCD are often very aware that their thoughts and behaviors are irrational, but they can't just "stop" or "control" them. OCD is a mental illness that affects the brain's ability to process information and respond to stimuli in a healthy way. It's not a choice or a character flaw.
Imagine having a song stuck in your head that you can't get rid of, no matter how hard you try. That's a little bit like what it's like to have intrusive thoughts with OCD. And the compulsive behaviors that follow these thoughts can feel like a necessary way to "neutralize" the anxiety that these thoughts cause. But the more you try to push the thoughts away, the more they can persist.
The good news is that with the right treatment, people with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and reduce the impact that intrusive thoughts and compulsions have on their lives. But it's important to remember that this is a medical condition, not a personal failing, and it requires specialized care and attention. Also, instead of asking why questions or giving advice, it's more helpful to listen to the person, validate their experiences, and offer support.
Using the term OCD lightly can undermine the severity of the disorder and contribute to stigma and misunderstandings.
3. OCD is just a quirk or personality trait.
False. Many people believe that OCD is just a quirk or personality trait, rather than a real mental health disorder. This is far from the truth. OCD is a debilitating condition that can severely impact a person's daily life. It's not just a personality quirk or a phase that someone can simply grow out of.
People with OCD experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause significant distress and anxiety. They feel compelled to perform repetitive behaviors or mental acts in an attempt to reduce their anxiety or prevent harm from occurring. This can include things like excessive cleaning, checking, or counting, and can take up hours of a person's day, making it difficult to engage in normal activities and relationships.
The media has a tendency to misrepresent OCD by portraying it as a quirk or personality trait. In popular culture, OCD is often associated with being extremely neat, organized, and perfectionistic. While some people with OCD may struggle with these behaviors, this is just one aspect of the disorder and does not reflect the experiences of all individuals with OCD.
Additionally, media portrayals of OCD often focus on compulsive behaviors rather than intrusive thoughts. This can lead to a misunderstanding of the disorder and can make it difficult for individuals with OCD to seek help. It's important to recognize that OCD is not just about performing rituals or being neat and tidy, but rather it involves a cycle of obsessions and compulsions that can significantly impact daily life.
4. OCD is really rare.
False. Many people believe that OCD is a rare condition that only affects a small number of individuals. However, OCD affects millions of people around the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 1% of the U.S. population has diagnosed OCD, which translates to approximately 3.3 million adults. Additionally, OCD affects people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.
One reason why people may think OCD is rare is because individuals with OCD often hide their symptoms due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, or fear of stigma. This can make it difficult for others to recognize the signs and symptoms of OCD, which can lead to misconceptions about the prevalence of the disorder. It's important to raise awareness and educate others about OCD to combat these misconceptions and provide support to those who may be struggling with the disorder.
5. You can just take a pill, you don’t need therapy for OCD.
False. You may have heard that you can just take a pill and your symptoms will go away. As intriguing as this may be, there is no “magic pill.” While medication can be helpful for managing the symptoms of OCD, it is not a cure-all solution. In fact, medication is often most effective when used in combination with therapy. Therapy can help individuals with OCD to understand and manage their symptoms, develop coping strategies, and learn how to retrain their brains to respond differently to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
It can be hard to imagine that treatment will help, but it does. Treatment can help you manage your symptoms and reduce your distress, so that you can live a more fulfilling life. There are different types of therapy that can be helpful for OCD, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. CBT helps individuals to identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, while ERP involves gradually exposing individuals to their obsessions and preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors.
While medication can be helpful for managing symptoms of OCD, it is not a replacement for therapy. It's also important to note that medication can have side effects and may not be effective for everyone. It's most helpful to work with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.
With therapy, you may not feel better overnight, but you can feel better. It takes time to learn new behaviors and change the way you think about yourself and the world around you. It also takes time for your brain to rewire itself with these new habits, so be patient with yourself on this journey.
OCD affects people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.
You are not alone. OCD is a complex and often misunderstood disorder. It's important to know the facts and dispel common misconceptions surrounding it. OCD is not just about being neat and clean, and it's not something that can simply be controlled with willpower. It's also not rare and affects a significant portion of the population. While medication can be helpful for some, it is not a cure-all, and therapy is often a crucial component in managing symptoms and improving quality of life. With greater awareness and understanding, we can break down stigma and provide support for those affected by OCD. If you or a loved one is struggling with OCD, know that there is hope and help available. Don't hesitate to reach out today. We know how hard it can be to live with OCD and we want you to know that there is hope for recovery. Reach out to us today and learn more about staring therapy!
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd
International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) : www.iocdf.org
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