Please Stop Telling People You’ve OCD

Whenever I open my social media accounts or flip through a magazine, I find someone who has “come out” about his/her mental illness. People own up to being depressed, anxious, psychotic. It takes immense courage to accept something like that, even more so when you’re a public figure whose every action will be scrutinised. I have nothing but respect for anyone who has the courage to fight against their mental health condition and come out tops. But I have nothing but distaste and disgust for anyone who knows zilch about mental illness but claims to “have it” nonetheless, trivialising everything it means, assuming it is somewhat cool or stands for an attractive aspect of their personality.

OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that causes people to indulge in obsessive behaviour or thought that they can’t seem to control. I have found it is among the most abused health conditions, ridiculed in all kinds of social settings.

“I have to keep my kitchen countertop spick and span. I am so OCD about it, you see,” an acquaintance lamented the other day.

“Oh, I have OCD too. It is SO irritating when I miss a deadline at work; I obsess about it for days on end,” sympathised another.

For God’s sake! Wanting to keep your kitchen neat does not mean you have OCD. Fretting about failed work commitments doesn’t make you mentally ill. (Missing deadlines and then whimpering about them probably makes you a humbug.) You cannot “be OCD about” something. It isn’t a synonym for being a Type-A person, more organised, or a stickler for schedules.

Fact 1: Everyone with OCD is not hell-bent on orderliness and cleanliness.

Fact 2: Many sufferers don’t have odd rituals or habits, but struggle with intrusive thoughts that agonise them. They are afraid they will hurt their baby sibling or stab a stranger on the street. They may have to touch the doorknob 12 times to feel a little more comfortable. They might need to wash their hands till they get sore or risk being contaminated with a life-threatening illness.

Before you make fleeting statements, please review facts 1 and 2 and re-assess your need to keep the kitchen countertop clean. Don’t claim you have OCD unless this need permeates every aspect of your life. Unless it brings you similar distress and pain. If it doesn’t, casual statements like that only belittle a severe and disturbing health condition.

OCD is not an adjective

It has become ridiculously common to make generalised statements. People “get depressed” when their favourite character on a TV show dies. They tell others who are depressed to cheer up, eat healthily, and go for a walk. (Even ministries share ridiculous tips to cope with depression.) I know people who say they’re bipolar because of all the endless energy they have; it is “the secret to their professional success”. I wonder if these people know that bipolar disorder or manic depression kills hundreds of people around the world every year; it propels many to suicide.

I understand that people who make such comments probably don’t intend to be cruel. They are only using these terms in a literal sense, perhaps hoping to cash in on the media attention and social eyeballs that they have now started gathering. But for the sakes of all those whose lives get ravaged by mental health conditions, I urge them to have better judgment.

So, no, you probably don’t have OCD. Consider yourself blessed, not sidelined or unimportant.


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29 thoughts on “Please Stop Telling People You’ve OCD

  1. Completely agree, OCD is so often characterised as just obsessive cleaning without any attention to the other aspects of the illness! Great post!

  2. I think mental illness, read OCD or thoughts is real and affect many of us. I have realized mental illness is so common nowadays but agree with your thoughts on cliche how many, including friends know zilch about it. Honestly, I have a personal issue which I share on Twitter to express myself but something that wouldn’t do on FB since my profile is public and by typing one can find me or see my battles. Certain things we don’t need the entire world to know about. An interesting discussing on mental illness and the various cliche. Certainly, people need to be educated by spreading the right awareness.

    • Vishal, I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts on the subject. It can indeed be restorative and strengthening to share our problems with loved ones – and I recommend we definitely do it, instead of trying to fight every battle alone. Perhaps, as more people share their demons, the awareness about such issues will also go up and the number of ill-thought, casual statements thrown about will reduce.

  3. While I agree with the fact that these are sensitive issues and too often trivialized in social media nowadays, by people who know nothing about them, yet I still believe that those who really do suffer from these issues, even if on and off, or in mild version, for such people, talking openly about it is very therapeutic.

    And yes, you are right, real OCD actually disturbs you mentally and emotionally. You tend to lose sleep over it. One serious example can be seen in the movie ‘As Good As It Gets’. But that’s quite a severe example, I would say.

    Also, I would like to add… depression can be a side effect of other health issues, like Hypothyroidism or anemia or even severe calcium/protein deficiency.

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    • Kaddu, warm welcome here and thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts 🙂

      I second your opinion completely. Talking about these issues can be therapeutic; it gives you strength when everything seems topsy-turvy.

      ‘As Good as It Gets’ was an interesting movie indeed. I remember watching it a few years ago. Hope to see you around more often, K 🙂

  4. I get this and I get your annoyance at people who say such things. They do end up trivialising the real sufferers’ problems. I’ve seen depression from up close and it’s not something one can joke about or take lightly.

    • Warm welcome here, Tulika 🙂
      Completely second what you said. It is painful when people trivialise problems so serious, even unintentionally. A little more consideration would go a long way.

  5. Great post deboshree. people may have no intention to hurt who are really suffering from OCD. But one has to become aware and responsible before they brag or joke about it just to look cool without knowing seriousness of this disorder. Love the way you conveyed this message. ❤️

    • Thanks a ton, Shruti 🙂🙂
      Agree with what you said – we may not realize that what we say can hurt or affect people, but in this realm, casualness can be dangerous.

  6. I have been telling people this for a while! Felt good to read my thoughts articulated so well. As someone with actual (mild) ocd, I have tried telling people about that feeling. The mental force it takes to not do something 3 times. To peel yourself away from an agonising thought. Feels stupid to compare it to a random obsession with keeping the kitchen clean.

    • Preeks, hugs. I wish more people would understand the seriousness of mental health conditions and how talking of them in inaccurate, fleeting terms can be agonising for those who know the agony. As a people, we believe we know it all. But we know very little.

  7. My mother indeed had OCD related to cleanliness and we were fed up with her habit of doing some kind of cleaning every two mins. But it wasnt the right topic to brag or cry about in social media. These days, people create an issue out of nothing and then social media makes those idiotic things viral. Very relevant post.

  8. Oh my God… Glad you brought this up in your post. These issues are treated like such a run of the mill and everyone seems to be knowing everything about them. This is an eye opener.

    • Warm welcome here, Beena. 🙂
      Yes, this is the first time I have taken up a challenge like this. So far, it has been quite an absorbing experience! Look forward to seeing you around 🙂

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