It doesn’t take long to realize that there’s a ton of misunderstanding about mental health. Across the internet, people misrepresent other people’s pain or turn it into jokes. And things are no better in the real world, where there are virtually no good ways for people to learn about mental health and misconceptions seem contagious.
In countless discussions with expert clinicians and researchers over the past few years, the nOCD team has confirmed what we sensed during some of our own struggles with mental health: the general lack of awareness creates a whole bunch of problems that make tough situations much tougher. Because they’re not aware of any other way to see it, people struggling with all kinds of symptoms spend years blaming themselves, feeling completely alone in their distress, and believing there’s little to no chance they’ll ever feel better.
Talking about OCD without mentioning specific uncomfortable thoughts is like talking about basketball without mentioning the ball or the hoop. People might understand that there are ten people running around, but they’ll have no idea why.
Meanwhile, too many friends and family members unknowingly add to the problem by giving unhelpful advice, promoting maladaptive behaviors, and blaming the person for their symptoms. And research tells us that doctors– from primary care providers all the way to psychiatrists– misdiagnose these conditions at alarmingly high rates, and shy away from implementing the best treatment options even when they’ve made an accurate diagnosis because those options seem too risky– or simply because they’re not aware of them.
Although we like to think things have improved meaningfully in places like the US or the UK, the general public still tends to act out of fear, not understanding, when confronted with what seems like another person’s psychic distress. Do you remember the last time you were out somewhere and you saw someone who was clearly not in a good spot mentally?
Did you and other passersby know what to do, and did anyone stop to ask if that person was alright? Or did everyone steer clear of them, as most of us do? Even if we sense that a person right in front of us might be in trouble, we do whatever we can not to get involved. This often seems like the only choice we have, but only because our social institutions generally do a terrible job of making sure people know how to help one another.
This doesn’t mean we all have to sew a cape and become superheroes; the decision to act is another thing entirely, but the fact that nobody even knows what they could if they wanted to help is reflective of the near-complete lack of support structures for people with psychiatric conditions.
Before we finally get to the main point, let’s briefly sum up the major ways that mental health misunderstanding makes things worse:
- People feel like they’re to blame for their struggle, and don’t seek treatment because they don’t know there’s any way to feel better.
- Family and friends inadvertently exacerbate problems because their notions of what’s happening– and the ways they respond to those notions– are based on worry or fear, instead of understanding.
- Even doctors tend to have a pretty scattered understanding of these topics, leading to tons of misdiagnosis. People often don’t get the best care possible, and those seeing multiple clinicians can get caught in a swirl of contradictory opinions.
- People don’t help each other out very often, because they’re afraid, because they don’t understand.
Now that we’ve gone on about some big, long-term problems, we’d like to introduce what we hope will be a small but important part of the solution. If you’ve been keeping an eye on our website recently, you might’ve noticed a few new words along the top. It says Learn About OCD, and it’ll bring you to a new section of our website that we hope will help us all chip away at the vast misunderstandings people with OCD deal with every day. And although OCD education is only a start– a meaningful start for us because half of our team members have it– we hope that it might also offer some ideas for people looking to understand other conditions.
A few quick notes about this new section. Our main goal was to make it a bit less clinical, but also less focused on venting, compared to most of the OCD content you’ve probably seen across the internet. We want it to be mostly about what it actually feels like to have OCD, but we also filled it with the latest and best research. We believe all steps in the mental health journey– from the creation of distinct diagnoses by the people who write those huge manuals, to the hard work people put in with their clinicians– should be in the service of helping people feeling better. The clinical stuff always needs to be a means to an end, and that end is the lived experience.
We still wanted to make sure, as always, that we weren’t saying anything out of line. That’s why we worked closely with two of the finest OCD clinicians in the world, Dr. Michael Jenike, MD and Dr. Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD. They very generously read our many drafts and helped us hone this new material until it was ready to be seen by other people. We owe Dr. Jenike and Dr. Pittenger a big thank you– a debt we only partially fulfilled by placing purple cartoons of them at the bottom of each page.
You might notice a few places where this section of the website gets intense or even graphic, and that was intentional. The biggest reason OCD is so difficult to live with is that people are deeply disturbed by their thoughts. It’s not a matter of preference– just wanting things to be done a certain way– or a strange personality quirk. It’s a condition of constant inner disturbance, and we know that the general understanding of OCD isn’t going to shift in a useful way if we’re not all clear on what OCD is.
Talking about OCD without mentioning specific uncomfortable thoughts is like talking about basketball without mentioning the ball or the hoop. People might understand that there are ten people running around, but they’ll have no idea why. The thoughts that become obsessions usually aren’t pretty, but they probably wouldn’t bother people much if they were. Still, we thought it’s important to mention that they’re all real. We’re not making things up to shock you; we all know there’s enough shocking and fake stuff on the internet already.
Of course, we’d be thrilled if you checked out this new part of our website. It was also created in the hope that people would share it with one another whenever the need arises. If you find it helpful, and you’ve got a friend who keeps misusing the term OCD or a sibling who has mentioned similar symptoms, please share it with them. We’ll be continuing to refine this new education section, and adding to it whenever needed. If you want to be a part of getting the word out, we’d be really grateful if you shared it on social media too.
Thanks for reading, and please contact us at @treatmyocd on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with any questions or comments.