May 22, 2018
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often misunderstood. How many times have you heard someone make a joke about an odd habit by saying things like “I’m so OCD” or “that’s just my OCD?” While this may seem harmless, using the term in everyday conversation downplays the seriousness of a disorder that causes a lot of suffering. Just like with any other mental health issue, it’s important that anyone dealing with OCD gets the support they need. That begins with recognizing and identifying the symptoms of the potential disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health describes OCD as a “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.”
Simply put, this means that a person is either unable to stop thinking too much about something (obsession) or unable to stop feeling the need to do something (compulsions). These thoughts and behaviors can range from something as simple as an urge to wash your hands more than is necessary, to something more intense, like dwelling on the status of your relationships with friends and loved ones. A telltale indicator of OCD is when these compulsions and obsessions become so all-consuming that they start to get in the way of important activities like “working, going to school, or spending time with friends.”
Diagnosing OCD can be difficult because at some level, we all obsess and worry about certain things from time to time. This kind of garden variety anxiety and stress can make life tough sometimes, but it’s a part of life, not necessarily a sign of OCD. This is why diagnosing OCD is best left to a psychiatric professional.
It can be scary for some people to admit they have a problem and need help managing it. If you know somebody in your life who is demonstrating symptoms of OCD, the best thing you can do is kindly encourage them to get help. Showing any friends or family members dealing with OCD that they are loved and supported while remaining judgement-free can make all the difference. Understand that the way they experience the world is different than your own and, once they seek help, recognize how hard they are working to get better.
It’s also important to understand that someone suffering from OCD won’t be able to get better overnight, even once they start getting the help they need. Everyone improves at different rates, and the path toward improved mental health is rarely a quick or easy journey. Simply demonstrating steady encouragement and acceptance can be the most powerful way that you can help.
For additional support resources, The International OCD Foundation has built up a great list of therapists, clinics, and support groups that anyone can go to start learning about their condition, as well as some of the best ways to deal with OCD.