We all know by now that not everything we read on the internet is correct. Misinformation surrounding mental health conditions is rampant and can have devastating results for countless sufferers. OCD is one of the most recognizable but most misunderstood mental illnesses in the world, with harmful stereotypes and perceptions about OCD leading to a gross misrepresentation of what OCD actually is.
Misinformation can interfere with timely and accurate diagnosis and treatment. Many individuals spend years believing OCD to be just one thing and never really understand that it encompasses a wide range of unique and nuanced intrusive thoughts and compulsions—it doesn’t fit neatly into a single box. Delays in treatment serve to increase pain and suffering as well as impairment in functioning. Inaccurate portrayals of OCD hinder the way in which people who do not have OCD understand the illness. Lack of awareness can make it difficult for them to understand and empathize with the OCD community, meaning that individuals with OCD often suffer in silence, isolation, confusion, and even discrimination.
By taking a closer look at five common myths around OCD —and the reality that underpins and challenges them—we can shine a light on this often misunderstood but entirely treatable condition.
MYTH: OCD is just a personality quirk
REALITY: OCD has been listed among the world’s top 10 most disabling conditions
OCD is a mental illness like any other, so it’s chronic, OCD truly isn’t just a part of a person’s personality. There is a personality disorder called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) but it is very different from OCD, similarity in names aside.
When we chalk mental health issues up to being personality traits we fail to recognize the significant impact they have on the sufferers functioning. Often, people with OCD cannot work and have difficulties in socializing and maintaining healthy relationships. Their health can be impacted negatively. We know that people who have OCD are also more likely than the general population to suffer from co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression and generalized anxiety, among others.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
MYTH: Everyone has a “little OCD.”
REALITY: Although OCD has a range of severity, it’s much more than a personal characteristic
People with OCD may have certain similar characteristics in terms of their personality, however, the illness of OCD is exactly that, an illness. You cannot have a “little bit of diabetes.” You either meet the diagnostic criteria or you don’t. It may be helpful to normalize certain feelings or thoughts, and I believe that most people who say things like this are well-meaning but naive to the disorder, and don’t intend harm. Unfortunately, what this does is take lightly a very serious mental health condition that affects millions of adults and children in the US alone. Inaccurate portrayals of this serious condition can lead to people being uninformed about the true nature of the illness.
MYTH: OCD is basically just germaphobia
REALITY: OCD can impact many areas of a person’s life
OCD can take on any theme or topic that you can imagine. People who have this condition cannot ever feel certain enough about the things that they value or the obsessions that they experience. This can make living life day to day very difficult. Symptoms tend to surround responsibility, where individuals feel that they are responsible for anything and everything that could potentially go wrong. People living with OCD often experience high levels of guilt and shame. Taboo-themed obsessions, such as around arousal or thoughts of harm, are not talked about nearly enough, so there are still so many people who may have no idea that they are experiencing a serious mental health disorder.
This is why it is imperative that the public is educated on what OCD truly looks like, not just the stereotypical symptoms often portrayed in the media. Many people have OCD and do not obsess about dirt, germs or contamination. There are some who do and some who do not. Not everyone with OCD feels that everything has to be orderly. Many do not feel that their homes or offices are clean and would not label themselves as overly organized.
MYTH: OCD is a “superpower”
REALITY: OCD is not beneficial or helpful
When we say things like OCD is a superpower or imply that having OCD is a gift we really invalidate the very real experiences of those suffering from this illness. Most people who have experienced this disorder are tormented by it. They do not find it to be a gift or something they find useful in day-to-day activities. Instead, this illness interferes with their ability to live a fully functioning life. They often report struggling with daily activities such as bathing/showering, self-care, leaving their home, driving, cooking, eating… the list goes on.
When people say these types of statements about OCD they hinder people who may otherwise seek treatment from doing so. This can lead individuals to think that maybe they are overreacting and that maybe OCD isn’t as bad as they think. Statements like these also continue the stigma that surrounds mental illness in general. This allows for false narratives surrounding OCD to continue.
MYTH: OCD is just anxiety
REALITY: OCD involves a particular set of conditions and requires specialized treatment
This frame of thought actually aims to delegitimize two very serious mental health conditions. Anxiety disorders can be very severe in nature. They are so much more than just everyday worries. They are experienced as frequent and excessive anxiety that can last years for many. We also know that when a person is diagnosed with OCD they experience intense levels of anxiety and distress surrounding unwanted and intrusive thoughts. They often are left feeling helpless and stuck in a seemingly endless spiral of trying to neutralize those feelings. It is more than anxiety about life stressors or paying bills on time—it’s often about highly irrational thoughts that drive people who suffer from OCD to spend countless hours each day engaging in compulsions. This can interfere with their ability to live the life that they want.
ERP can help fight OCD symptoms
It’s obvious why these myths are important to debunk. The average person who will be diagnosed with OCD can go more than seven years without a proper diagnosis and treatment. Part of the reason people do not seek treatment is due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Myths also are misleading and can make it difficult for those suffering to understand that they have an actual disorder.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
If you’re struggling with OCD and want to take the power away from your intrusive thoughts, NOCD can help. Our licensed therapists deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.