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Busting Myths about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Muhammad Abdullah Khan
Muhammad Abdullah Khanhttps://scientiamag.org
Muhammad Abdullah Khan has done bachelors in Chemistry from Government College University Lahore. He is a science enthusiast and loves to read and write about astronomy, cosmology and latest scientific endeavors.

Mental disorders are one of the most misunderstood and ill-perceived human diseases. They are considered taboo, and anyone who reaches out to psychologists or psychiatrists is stereotyped as “crazy, stupid, foolish or cracked.” The most misconstrue among mental disorders is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD. While our general understanding of OCD symptoms comes from TV characters such as Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Monica Geller from 90s sitcom Friends, these stereotypical depictions of people having OCD symptoms may not be entirely genuine. We need to bust different myths about OCD and sift facts from fiction and should try to answer some basic questions such as: are OCD depression related? Are OCD thoughts irrational?, are OCD brains different than usual? Or can OCD be treated or cured?

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common mental disease has affecting 1-2% of the population around the globe. According to WHO, it is one of the “ten most disabling illnesses.”
A person with OCD has a vicious cycle of recurring thoughts, which become an obsession, and s a consequence, he is forced reacting in a different than normal behavioral patterns to resolve those obsessions, which become compulsions. The obsessions are so intense that people with OCD face difficulty in social relationships due to their continuous constraints.

MYTH: We’re all ‘a little OCD’

There is no “little bit” in OCD: This is a complex disorder commonly starts developing in childhood or early teenage. People with OCD have problems to carry out daily chores and face difficulties in social relationships due to this disorder.

MYTH: It’s about being obsessively tidy or clean

This myth is just another stereotypical perception due to the wrong portrayal in media and films. In reality, OCD is more complicated than just being a germophobe. People with OCD have extreme recurring thoughts, which are usually negative. These continuous intrusive thoughts, along with prolonged feelings of fear, doubt, and paranoia, compel the people with this mental disorder to carry out repetitive actions to satisfy their psychological urges. Therefore, such people experience a wide range of obsessions such as the need for order, perfection, symmetry or arrangement, fear of dirt, germs, doubts about their safety or suspicions about others around them, blasphemous thoughts, or fear of violent thinking or aggressive actions. These thoughts or obsessions (as they are called in psychology) are challenging to control. They cannot be rationalized, and people suffering from this disease find it challenging to overcome them.

This myth is just another stereotypical perception due to the wrong portrayal in media and films

MYTH: People with OCD wash their hands non-stop

Not always right, although people with OCD have repetitive, obsessive thoughts which compel them to often repeat their actions, which can be irritating to others. Yet washing hands, again and again, is not always that compulsion. While this obsession with germophobia is common in many people, yet there are numerous other compulsions as well. Constantly checking door locks, excessive cleaning, or order are other common obsessions. These obsessions force the people to miss out on the fun activities in social gatherings and make such people irritating and obnoxious.

MYTH: They need to be more relaxed

It’s easier said than done. People having OCD are unable to cope up with the anxiety of not fulfilling their obsessions. The obsessive thoughts are compelling, and they preoccupy the mind of patients. They cannot free their minds from these obsessions, which ultimately force them to satisfy their urges. These obsessive thoughts cannot be “just turned off” by being relaxed. People living with this condition have described as being “imprisoned” by their own minds due to these obsessions.

Myth: People with OCD are just uptight, weird, neurotic, or quirky

Yes, it is true that generally, people suffering from OCD have a quirky and intolerable attitude. But it is far from being only quirky. Cycles of repeated obsessive thoughts lead to compulsive behavior. The compulsive behavior is just a short term relief from the obsessive thoughts which stop momentarily only to come back again. These obsessions do not limit the person to just being quirky or obnoxious. One patient with OCD described “life as a living hell.”

“When the alarm went off in the morning, I would start to cry because I knew my day would be filled with horrible thoughts, panic attacks, and hours and hours of rituals. ‘The simple thought of having to leave the house would send me into a panic attack as I was so worried one of my loved ones would die because of my actions.’

Myth: People with OCD don’t realize they’re acting irrationally

Patients of OCD are not always unaware of their illness and resulting in irrational thoughts and behavior. Generally, they are aware that their thoughts and actions are absurd and ridiculous. This is the biggest frustration for these people as they are conscious of their irrational thoughts but cannot do anything to stop their compulsive behavior.

Myth: OCD is funny

This is often taken lightly, and people make fun of such patients. But this is not just a joke for the laughter; it is a severe illness that hinders the social engagement of OCD patients and causes frustration in around 1-2% of people suffering from this disease. They have to cope with constant anxiety, fear, and depression. They are unable to take part in social activities, often lose jobs, or face problems in social relationships. If left untreated, it can be dangerous as more than 60% of people with OCD have had suicidal thoughts at one point, and around 25% reported having attempted suicides.

Obsessive compulsive disorder hinders the social engagement of patients and causes frustration
OCD hinders the social engagement of patients and causes frustration

Myth: Stress causes OCD

While stress stimulates obsessive thoughts and exacerbates compulsive thoughts, it is not the only root cause of OCD. This illness is complex and has other underlying objects, as well.

Myth: OCD is rooted in your childhood

Psychologists say that while genetics plays a vital role in the development of OCD in people whose closed ones have had this problem, the development of this disease doesn’t need to be dependent on childhood experiences.

Myth: OCD is rare in kids

It can strike a child as young as four years old. There is no age limit for this disease. At least one in every two hundred kinds and teenagers has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is the same percentage as that of diabetes in kids. While diabetes is not considered rare in kids, OCD is thought of as a rare disease in kids, which is not valid.

Myth: OCD is a woman’s disease

While it is generally considered to be more common in women, it can strike anyone regardless of gender, age, race, or economic background. The rate of OCD is the same for men, women, and kids of every age, race, and gender.

Myth: Tests can confirm OCD

While it cannot be detected by blood or other tests such as those to detect cancer, diabetes, etc. it can be diagnosed with few different methods. Your doctor can carry out physical tests and examinations to rule out other diseases. Three symptoms are generally looked for diagnosing OCD: whether you have obsessions, whether you show compulsive behavior, and if you do have these two conditions whether these obsessions and compulsions are getting in the way of your healthy lifestyle or not.

MYTH: OCD isn’t treatable

This is a complex and severe disorder, if left untreated, it can be dangerous for the person with OCD and people around them. Several treatments and therapies are available, which can treat obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior through a combination of behavioral therapy and medications.
It cannot be cured entirely, but it could control with the appropriate expert’s treatment.

Also read: Psychotic disorders in youth

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