Myths about OCD

Many believe that people with OCD are just fussy or neat freaks but it can be a significant disability. Read on and we’ll bust five myths about OCD.

Uncovering five myths about OCD…

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder which affects the lives of more than 500,000 Australians day-to-day. For some, OCD can be a significant disability.

Read on and we’ll shine some light on five myths surrounding OCD.

Myth #1. We’re all a bit OCD

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone playfully say, “I’m so OCD.”

If you’ve been described as a perfectionist, or if you can’t start work until your desk is ridiculously tidy – it doesn’t mean you have OCD. This disorder is a serious mental illness that comes with high levels of anxiety, resulting in emotional distress.

People with OCD experience obsessions which are intrusive thoughts, images, or urges – such as a fear of germs. To try and relieve these, they respond with repetitive behaviour called ‘compulsions’ – such as excessive hand-washing.

Obsessions and compulsions can make life tough because they’re difficult to ignore, and can take up hours of the day – interfering with social relationships, and even affecting work and study.

So, long story short: OCD is not the same as having the occasional little quirk or hang-up – it can be a serious and very real condition.

Myth #2. People with OCD are just ‘neat freaks’ or ‘germophobes’

Yes, a fixation on order and cleanliness can be common for people with OCD, but there can be so much more to it.

People may worry about loved ones dying, fixate on symmetry and precision, fear contamination from poisons, or fear certain numbers, colours or words.

The way that people with OCD respond through compulsions can also be very different from person to person. People with OCD may hoard things, check and recheck that something hasn’t been forgotten, repeat routines (like going in and out of a door), arrange things in the ‘right’ way, or count, tap or touch objects.

For example, they might worry that someone in their family will become ill if they don’t arrange things in a certain way, or if they touch certain things they will contract a disease.

Myth #3. It’s obvious if you’ve got OCD

While you may think that if someone has OCD, it will be obvious, but a lot of the time it won’t be. This is because people with OCD are often embarrassed about their symptoms and go to huge efforts to hide them.

There’s also a form of OCD that’s even more difficult to detect, called Primarily cognitive obsessive-compulsive disorder (Pure-O). People with Pure-O display no visible symptoms at all; instead, these only occur inside the head. Many people with this form don’t even know they have OCD because they don’t fit the ‘stereotype’, and worryingly, clinicians often miss the condition.

Myth #4. People with OCD don’t get that they’re acting irrationally

Most people with OCD actually do recognise their symptoms as inconvenient and many also realise they’re being irrational, and even harmful. Only a very small percentage of people with OCD think their beliefs (like if they don’t check the stove 30 times the house will burn down) are actually true. That said, it doesn’t make these compulsions any easier to control.

It is also a misconception that if someone is aware they have the condition, they can ‘choose’ how they respond to it. This simply isn’t always true. One of the most frustrating aspects for people with OCD is their inability to ignore the compulsions, no matter how strange they may be.

Myth #5. There’s nothing you can do about it

Unfortunately, OCD can’t be cured but it can be successfully managed. Surprisingly, most people with the disorder don’t seek treatment and try to hide their symptoms – often because they’re embarrassed and think they will be perceived as ‘crazy’.

So, what can you do to treat it? Seek help as early as possible from your doctor. The first step is often an exposure and response prevention (a ‘face your fears’ therapy) but some will need a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can have an incredible impact on reducing the frequency and intensity of the intrusive thoughts that affect daily life.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.