We’ve come a long way in understanding and accepting mental illnesses and disorders. There are even popular books and films revolving around lives affected by various mental disorders. One example is the film “Silver Linings Playbook.” The film’s central character struggles with bipolar disorder and the film’s direction touches on some aspects of the disorder that many don’t associate with it.
In the film, however, the father of the protagonist displays signs of struggling with his own disorder, but he never comes to the point of openly speaking about it. Based on the traits shown in the movie, it is implied that the father has OCD. OCD is obsessive-compulsive disorder, and although society has gotten more comfortable with speaking about mental disorders, OCD is still commonly misinterpreted.
Often when someone uses the term OCD publicly, they are using it wrong. The disorder is popularly mistaken as a substitute phrase for preferring something a certain way, or for wanting basic control of situations like the cleanliness of your room or how you organize your purse. It’s true that these traits can be a part of OCD symptoms, but they are a small part.
What OCD really is, is a cycle of repetitive, intrusive thoughts that cause someone distress and anxiety. That is the “obsessive” aspect of the disorder. The compulsive half is where those particulars that society misinterprets come into play.
Compulsions are rituals or “checks” that someone with OCD does to combat the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts.
Instead of being recognized and treated like the actual mental disorder it is, OCD is often brushed aside as another phrase that one can use when they want to be picky about something.
“I’m pretty OCD about where I keep things in my room,” is not a fair representation of what the disorder really feels like. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being organized, and there is nothing wrong with saying so, but it’s not OCD. If it were, the order of your personal belongings wouldn’t just be a preference; it would feel like a necessity. Things being out of place would cause irrational thoughts and potentially intense anxiety.
It’s great that our society is one where disorders are recognized, and where it is easily possible to reach out for professional help for many psychological dilemmas, but misrepresenting a mental disorder will only push us backwards. What happens when people use the phrase OCD so nonchalantly is it loses its power as a real, diagnosable disorder. This makes those who suffer with the disorder (which is about 2.3 percent of the United States) reluctant to share their experiences with those around them. Why would they want to tell their peers about intrusive thoughts that cause them crippling anxiety attacks if it gets responded to with doubts and disregards for the severity that the disorder can cause?
This doesn’t mean that those who misuse the term are doing it in an offensive and spiteful manner; it’s not their fault that we, as a society, don’t know or understand the true nature of the disorder. We’ve already started bringing mental disorders into our public perception and in open discussions, so the ball is rolling. It’s just the matter of being informed and insightful of the impact that mental disorders have on those who live with them. Until that understanding is represented in society, disorders like OCD will continue to be disregarded and ignored as actual disorders.