Obsessive compulsive disorder, which affects approximately 1 percent of American adults in a given year, can cause debilitating physical and emotional symptoms. Yet many people treat it as a punchline rather than a medical condition.
Experts say education is the best way to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions like OCD. So, we asked our HuffPost social communities to share what they wished everyone knew about the disorder in an effort to shine a light on the condition for others who may not understand.
Check out some of their comment and email responses below. (Warning: This might be triggering for some with the condition.)
1. OCD is more than hand washing and cleanliness.
“I wish people understood that saying someone is OCD to describe someone who likes a clean house is insulting and hurtful. We aren’t just freaks who organize their sock drawers all day. We are real people living real lives who have a constant loop of unwanted thoughts in our heads. A loop we can only learn to live with and one that will never go away. I WISH it was as easy as wanting a clean house.” ―Esra Aygun
2. It’s serious.
“[OCD] is a real mental health condition, and is not a joke ... Until you have spent 30 minutes lining up shampoo bottles in the shower because if you don’t, your mom will be hit by a car, you have no idea what living with OCD is like.” ―Hannah Pemberton
3. It causes intense rumination.
“It’s being flooded by horrible and scary thoughts at random. Thoughts that terrify you and you are unable to just shrug off like everyone else. The thoughts, they chase you and haunt you until you perform whatever ritual your brain has decided will keep whatever scary thing you’re thinking of at bay. It’s like superstition on steroids.” ―Elaine Woods Nicholas
4. OCD is completely draining.
“You just get stuck in these patterns and it takes so much mentally and emotionally to function on a daily basis because your brain works differently. For me, it’s exhausting.” ―Nicolette Acuña
5. It manifests in many ways.
“It comes in many forms and presentations and just because I don’t insist everything be alphabetized or in a straight row does not mean my diagnosis is not valid.” ―Tiffany Rundquist
6. It causes all kinds of distressing habits.
“I have an offshoot of OCD called manic grooming. ... Sometimes the behaviors are conscious, (for instance staring in the bathroom mirror for an hour trying to pluck any stray eyebrow hair) sometimes not. It can be stress or anxiety related. It can even be triggered by boredom.” ―Audra Attaway
7. OCD is not an adjective.
“If you’re saying ‘OMG I’m so OCD!’ It’s pretty likely you don’t have OCD nor have you in its debilitating sense. It’s really not a joke and not something to use in everyday conversation. It’s real, it’s confining and horrible and deserves sensitivity rather than an attitude ‘that everyone is a little OCD.’” ―Brit Tucker
8. It’s not something a person can just turn off.
“It’s a diagnosis, not a personality trait or an adjective to describe someone’s quirky traits. I can’t stop it. I can’t control it. It causes extreme anxiety if I can’t act on it.” ―Nicole Pooler
9. Simply supporting an individual with OCD means everything.
“The best thing you can do for me is love me without judgment and just be patient. Some days will be better than others and it doesn’t have anything to do with you.” ―Katie Wid-min
10. OCD is an invisible illness.
“The mental tics/obsessions are torture and even though you can’t see it. It can make us miserable.” ―Morgan Gruver
11. It has physical symptoms.
“It can be very physical. My body carries stress ... when something doesn’t ‘feel’ right and I have to repeat a movement or action.” ―Yvonne Hernandez
12. You may not even realize someone is dealing with the condition.
“I’m a normal functioning member of society but these thoughts feel real. There’s real fear.” ―Kate Whalan
13. No, OCD doesn’t make a person “crazy.”
“There’s nothing shameful about seeking help to live your life to the fullest. I always say the best day of my life was the day I find out I had OCD. That day I realized I wasn’t alone, and that day I realized I could get help to live a more fulfilling life. OCD doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me and I am not ashamed of it.” ―Ashlee Manley
It’s clear that OCD isn’t in a person’s control or something that’s all in their head. It’s a very real illness with very real effects. So, can we stop stigmatizing this mental health condition now?
Some responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.