"I'm so OCD" - Unless You Actually Are, Stop Saying It. Here's Why
How pop-culture's misuse of mental health condition terms can reinforce misconceptions
Recently I went out on a date with a guy who charmingly joked, "I've never been out with someone who confirmed our plans so many times."
"Yes, checking and confirming is part of my OCD," I replied.
He looked a little taken aback at my matter-of-fact explanation of why I texted multiple times confirming the day, time and location. He replied that he wouldn't have guessed, that he didn't think I displayed some of the common symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) like being neat and clean.
This launched us into an honest conversation about the stigma associated with OCD and how pop-culture use of mental health conditions can reinforce misconceptions and misuse of terms.
"I'm so OCD about doing the dishes."
"I'm a little OCD about taking my dog out."
We've all heard - and many often use - these expressions casually in conversations. As open dialogues about mental health conditions become more prevalent and depictions of mental illness in pop culture become more frequent, it seems more and more we are hearing these conditions being used as adjectives.
While it's great that society as a whole is opening up and speaking freely about mental health, using mental health conditions as buzzwords can actually be doing more harm than good. OCD is more than just washing your hands a lot or keeping your apartment clean. In fact, many people living with OCD may not even be considered "neat-freaks."
OCD can be a debilitating mental health condition characterized by intrusive thoughts, rituals, and compulsions that extend much farther than ensuring your bed is made every day. While someone with OCD can certainly have obsessions or compulsions surrounding contamination or cleanliness, they may also experience unwanted sexual thoughts, fears about committing violent acts, religious obsessions, rituals, repeating, or checking (i.e. making sure your date is indeed at 7 pm and not 8 pm, despite already confirming twice).
Imagine not only making sure your door is locked as you head out for the day, but going back to check, recheck and check again, until you are late for work where you spend all day wondering if you actually did lock the door. Or perhaps on your drive to work you are suddenly confronted by the uncontrollable fear that you accidentally hit something in the road a block back and you have to go back to make sure.
By continuing to toss mental health conditions into casual everyday conversations, we are reinforcing the stigma that living with OCD looks the same way for everyone. The truth is, living with these conditions can look vastly different for everyone. Mental health diagnoses, coping and treatment isn't one size fits all.
By portraying mental health conditions as quirks that look just like our favorite TV character, we are trivializing the struggles that people actually diagnosed with these conditions are experiencing on a daily basis. So next time you find yourself about to say, "I'm a little OCD about…" stop and find another way to describe your behavior that does not minimize the struggle that others may be going through.