Do I Have OCD?
Have your hands been feeling a bit dry and rough lately from washing your hands more often? Or have you made your 5th trip to the shops already this week to stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning products?
Since the news of Covid-19 spread across the globe, contamination fears have increased exponentially and excessive hand-washing seems to have become a new norm.
But perhaps you’ve been wondering, isn’t that what people with OCD do?
OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is most commonly associated with ‘excessive cleanliness’ or with someone who is perceived to be a germaphobe. But what many people don’t realise, is that there are many misconceptions about OCD, and it can actually present itself in many ways.
Clinical OCD, as outlined in the DSM-5 (a diagnostic manual used by clinicians), is an anxiety disorder, characterised by recurrent, persistent thoughts (known as ‘obsessions’), and/or the presence of repetitive behaviours that one feels compelled to perform (known as ‘compulsions’).
OCD is an illness that is experienced by as many as 1 in 40 adults, and based on estimates for the UK population, there are around three quarters of a million people living with OCD at any one time.
Despite the prevalence of OCD, there remains to be a lack of understanding around it, which means that those who are affected by it, are often misunderstood and are faced with a stigma.
To understand OCD, it’s imperative to understand what OCD is not. All too often, OCD has been mistakenly used as a catch-all term to describe individuals who are perceived to be ‘obsessive’ or particular in some way. During the last decade or so, public awareness about OCD seems to have grown, and the term ‘OCD’ is often used and talked about, but unfortunately, also used in reference to certain kinds of behaviours that are not OCD. So whilst more people seem to talk about the personality quirks of “being a bit OCD”, many may not actually have the disorder.
Common Misconceptions About OCD – Explained:
- “OCD is mainly about cleanliness, and people with OCD like cleaning”
It’s true that obsessions with cleanliness have become hallmarks of OCD and can entail ritualised behaviours, such as hand-washing. But cleanliness can also be a personality trait.
If it is a personality trait, then you essentially have control over whether you clean or not, and you can choose to do it or not. People with OCD on the other hand, feel compelled to clean and are doing it as a result of an unbearable level of anxiety. A person with OCD doesn’t obsessively clean their home just because they like to clean, or like things to be clean, they clean because this may be the only way to relieve them of their anxiety and distress.
Aside from the fact that people with OCD don’t clean out of choice, it’s also important to realise that OCD obsessions are not just about cleanliness.
OCD can vary from person to person. Other common subtypes of OCD can include – repetitive checking, fixations on symmetry and orderliness, mental contamination, having to deal with intrusive thoughts, and hoarding.
As well as fears about germs and contamination, other obsessions may involve – a fear of committing a sin, a fear of a loved one dying or getting hurt, or an apprehension around certain numbers, colours or words.
Individuals with OCD will often feel compelled to carry out a set of behaviours to mitigate the anxiety and distress brought about by their obsessions, and some common compulsive behaviours may include – counting, ordering or arranging things in a precise way, tapping or touching objects, hoarding, or repeating certain movements or routines in a particular fashion.
- “People with OCD are fussy and particular, and like keeping things neat and tidy”
This is probably another main myth about OCD that is unfortunately fuelled by inaccurate use of the term, especially in the media. OCD is not a personality trait or choice. Individuals who suffer from OCD can experience debilitating levels of anxiety, which compels them to spend excessive amounts of time and energy to carry out certain behaviours – which is often exhausting and torturous for the individual.
- “People with OCD just need to relax”
For those that have minimal knowledge about OCD, or for those that have perhaps been misguided by erroneous depictions of OCD in the media, certain symptoms of OCD may appear to them – bizarre or illogical. Consequently it can be tempting to assume the individual with OCD can just ‘snap out of it’ with a bit of willpower. However as we’ve seen, OCD isn’t a personality quirk – it’s an illness, and a chronic condition that can severely impact all aspects of someone’s life. Therefore, rather than assuming that someone with OCD can just change the way they are behaving, it’s far more conducive to recognise this and assist them in accessing the support they need.
- “It’s obvious if you’ve got OCD, and you can always see if someone’s got OCD”
While it may seem like an obvious thing to spot, many people who suffer from OCD will probably feel embarrassed and will go to great lengths to conceal their symptoms. And as mentioned above, OCD doesn’t necessarily always have to entail an overt behaviour (such as excessive hand-washing or cleaning) to be diagnosable. A certain type of OCD (often referred as ‘Pure-O’), can be difficult to detect as there are no visible symptoms. This is because the compulsions involved are fundamentally carried out as an internal process – inside the person’s head.
- “We’re all a bit OCD!”
How often have you heard someone exclaim that they’re “a bit OCD”? Or perhaps you’ve said it out loud yourself, e.g. after having spent the afternoon meticulously cleaning and clearing out your desk, or having unpacked the groceries and ordered them neatly in the kitchen cupboards.
OCD is sometimes mistakenly likened to perfectionistic traits, and is unintentionally joked about as a consequence. However, this fuels the misconception that OCD is something that someone can just “get over” or “snap out of”, and it also might infer in some cases, that someone who can’t just ‘get over it’, is someone who is weak-willed.
OCD is an illness that comes with it high levels of anxiety and emotional distress, and the more we take time to understand it, the better we’ll be at fighting the stigma behind it. In the long run, this will not only help support those who struggle with it in seeking the help they need, but perhaps will also help us to navigate the aftermath of Covid-19.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
- Davide, P., Andrea, P., Martina, O., Andrea, E., Davide, D., & Mario, A. (2020). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with OCD: Effects of contamination symptoms and remission state before the quarantine in a preliminary naturalistic study. Psychiatry research, 291, 113213. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113213
- De Silva, P., & Rachman, S. (2004). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: The facts. Oxford University Press, USA.
- Ocduk.org. 2020. Occurrences Of OCD | OCD-UK. [online] Available at: https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/how-common-is-ocd/.
- Pittenger, C. (Ed.). (2017). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: phenomenology, pathophysiology, and treatment. Oxford University Press.