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Breaking the Stigma Around Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Updated: Mar 21

Are you familiar with the term “OCD”? You've likely come across the term, but do you truly understand its nature and the daily challenges individuals living with this condition face? Can you picture the emotional and, at times, physical suffering that accompanies OCD? Probably not, because of the general public's perception of OCD. 

The reality is that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not a fictional concept or something to be trivialized. It is also not a term to be casually used to assert superiority over others. OCD is a real condition that warrants understanding, empathy, and respect.

Here are some ways how you break the stigma of mental illness, specifically OCD, through awareness and dissemination of accurate and unbiased information.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by unsettling obsessions and recurring compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts or images that cause anxiety, while compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts to alleviate the anxiety temporarily. 

OCD can manifest in various forms, such as excessive cleanliness, fear of contamination, symmetry and order obsessions, and intrusive thoughts of harm or violence. It significantly affects daily life, consuming time and energy and interfering with work and relationships.

Causes and Risk Factors of OCD

OCD does not have a singular cause. It is believed to result from a variety of distinct factors. Possible explanations include:

  • Biological Factors

OCD may stem from alterations in the body's natural chemistry or brain functions. 

  • Genetics

Although the specific genes involved have not yet been identified, there is evidence that OCD can run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the disorder. 

  • Learning

Obsessive fears and compulsive behaviours can be acquired by observing family members or gradually learned over time.

Certain factors can heighten the risk of developing or triggering OCD. These factors include:

  • Family History

Having a family background of OCD, particularly with parents or other relatives having the disorder, can increase one's risk of developing OCD.

  • Stressful Life Events

Experiencing traumatic or stressful events can elevate the risk of developing OCD. It's likely that these situations inadvertently set off invasive thoughts, practices, and psychological distress that may ultimately result in OCD experiences and behaviours. 

  • Cognitive Factors

Distorted beliefs or maladaptive thinking patterns may contribute to developing and maintaining OCD symptoms. Cognitive distortions such as thought-action fusion (TAF) and other thinking errors are common with OCD. 

  • Other Mental Health Disorders

People with certain conditions like anxiety disorders or depression may be more susceptible to developing OCD.

How Is OCD Being Treated?

OCD is commonly treated through a combination of therapies and medications. 

The primary treatment for OCD is exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy, a subtype of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). ERP aims to change thinking patterns and perceptions of OCD-related thoughts, fears, and urges by gradually exposing individuals to triggers and preventing associated compulsive behaviours. 

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another therapy used for OCD. It focuses on the individual staying present, changing their relationship to difficult thoughts and feelings, and making meaningful life changes. 

Medications, such as SSRI antidepressants, are often prescribed to manage symptoms. 

Additional approaches include lifestyle adjustments, natural remedies, supplements, mindfulness meditation, yoga, journaling, and self-help tools like OCD workbooks or online treatment groups. 

What Are the Stigmas Around OCD?

Individuals with OCD often fear being shunned, judged, or mistreated at work, at home, among friends, and in romantic relationships due to their OCD diagnosis. This stigma and labelling may deter people from seeking help and make it more challenging to be honest with others about their fears, anxieties, and thoughts. Additionally, the stigma associated with OCD has led to unfair hiring practices and fewer promotion prospects. 

  • External OCD Stigmas

This stigma arises from societal beliefs and stereotypes surrounding individuals with OCD. It can result in discrimination and prejudice against people with the condition.

Examples of external stigmas include:

  • “People with OCD are unable to carry out their job duties properly.”

  • “People with OCD display unusual and erratic behaviour."

  • "People with OCD are likely to be violent."

  • "People with OCD are incapable of adequately caring for their children."

  • Internal OCD Stigmas

When individuals internalize the public stigma, they begin to adopt and accept the stereotypes associated with OCD. Self-stigma involves individuals believing and internalizing negative perceptions of themselves due to their condition. 

Examples of internal stigmas include:

  • "I am deeply flawed because I am the only one struggling to remove incessant and repetitive thoughts from my mind, while everyone else seems to handle it effortlessly."

  • "If my employer discovers my OCD condition, I might get fired."

  • "I will never be productive."

  • "I will never be happy because of my OCD."

  • "No one will ever love me because I am 'crazy'."

Ways to Break the Stigma

By promoting accurate information and fostering awareness, we can help reduce the unfair stereotypes about OCD and encourage empathy, respect, and understanding for those living with this challenging condition.

Here are 5 ways to start breaking the stigma around mental illness and OCD specifically:

  • Promote Both Physical and Mental Health

Despite its equal importance, mental health is often undervalued compared to physical health. We must recognize that it encompasses our emotional, social, and psychological well-being, influencing how we think, feel, and respond to life's challenges. Promoting equality between physical and mental health can combat stigmas and encourage empathy toward those struggling. This shift in understanding can empower individuals with OCD and other mental health concerns to seek the help they need.

  • Continuously Educate Yourself and Others

Expanding knowledge about OCD and sharing this information can dispel common misconceptions surrounding individuals with OCD. One prevailing stereotype is that OCD solely involves a desire for cleanliness and organization. OCD is far more complex and encompasses a wide range of experiences. By acknowledging accurate facts and realities about OCD, we can initiate conversations that help shift cultural attitudes toward the disorder.

  • Separate the Person From the Condition

Recognizing that OCD manifests uniquely in each individual is crucial in separating the person from the disorder. Every person with OCD experiences distinct obsessions and compulsions. It is essential to remember that OCD does not define a person's entire identity. Moving beyond this notion, we can foster greater acceptance for those feeling isolated by OCD and other mental health issues, reducing the stigma prevalent in our society.

  • Share Your Experience Openly

Although it may be challenging and uncomfortable, openly discussing OCD and mental health, particularly during World Health Day, is a significant step toward driving change. Learning from others' stories and experiences helps break down existing stereotypes, leading to a deeper understanding of the disorder and its diverse impact on people. 

  • Seek Help and Support Others

The mental health stigma can discourage people from seeking help and acknowledging their struggles. The fear of not meeting societal expectations or being "anxious enough" can prevent individuals from finding solace and accessing necessary treatment. Overcoming these barriers is crucial to enable individuals to seek support, find comfort, and break free from the constraints of stigma. It is vital if we want to create an environment where seeking help for mental health is encouraged and accepted.

So why is OCD so stigmatized? The stigma around OCD arises from the public's limited knowledge and misconceptions about the condition, often fueled by exaggerated stereotypes depicted in popular media. To help break down the stigma, we must educate ourselves and others about OCD. 

If you or someone you know suffers from OCD, don't hesitate to seek help. Let's join forces in dismantling the stigma and supporting those suffering from this disorder.

For trusted a OCD therapist in Toronto, reach out to Shlomo Radcliffe & Associates at (289) 801 – 4133.


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