6 things people often get wrong about OCD

As Horizon's documentary Monster in my Mind reveals how serious OCD can be, here are six myths about the condition...

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As Horizon’s A Monster in My Mind documentary looks at severe sufferers of OCD, here are six things that people misunderstand about the illness…

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1) OCD is all about liking things clean and tidy

In popular culture, hand washing is synonymous with OCD but the obsessions can take lots of different forms. Some sufferers will have OCD linked to cleanliness and contamination, but others suffer from obsessional thoughts about illness, harming others, numbers, patterns, sexuality and morality. One OCD sufferer might be obsessed with the idea of ingesting germs while someone else might be obsessed with the thought that they’ve killed someone by accident.


2) OCD is just an overreaction to normal life

People with OCD aren’t being difficult or anal about seemingly small things— they have incredibly high levels of anxiety which they can’t naturally control. The thoughts often interfere with school, work, life and relationships. 


3) It’s easy to stop obsessing. Just think about something else and “chill out”

People who are affected have little or no control over their obsessive thoughts, but they often know their fear of killing someone or being contaminated is irrational. However, knowing the anxiety is irrational doesn’t stop the thoughts dictating their lives.

And the very fact that they understand that it’s irrational is part of why it’s so exhausting and upsetting to the sufferer. It’s like having your brain lie to you without being able to resist doing what it tells you to…


4) Everyone is a bit OCD

No, they’re not. Of course, lots of us have obsessive tendencies but we’re able to block out the thoughts after some time and get on with our day, often just by distracting ourselves.  OCD sufferers can’t just move on.


5) OCD is just down to having a fussy personality

Nobody actually knows exactly where OCD comes from, but it’s not just a case of having a “high maintenance” personality. Here are some of the causes of OCD:

Genetics

If someone in your family has OCD, you’re more likely to have it. This could be down to genetics— although no genes have been linked to the condition— but it could also be down to learnt behaviour. 

The brain

Brain imaging studies have shown some people with OCD have differences in certain parts of their brain, including increased activity and blood flow, and a lack of the brain chemical serotonin.

Personality traits

People with certain personality traits may be more likely to have OCD. For example, if you are a neat, meticulous, methodical person with high standards – a “perfectionist” – you may be more likely to develop the condition.

Life experience

OCD may be more common in people with a history of having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, social isolation, teasing or bullying.

Deaths, family break-ups, new job, pregnancy or childbirth, may also trigger OCD in people who already have a tendency to develop the condition – for example, because of genetic factors.

So if a family member dies, that could trigger a fear that someone in your family will be harmed. 


6) Once you’ve got OCD, you can’t get rid of it

Sometimes you can’t totally cure it, but there are effective treatments, including medication which increases serotonin in the brain.

Then there is cognitive behavioural therapy which helps sufferers cope with their anxieties, electroconvulsive therapy or, in extreme cases where the patient doesn’t respond to any other treatment, there is brain surgery. 


Horizon: OCD — a Monster in my Mind is on BBC2 at 8pm on Wednesday 26th August

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For more information, see the NHS website on OCD.

Read more:

Horizon: OCD – a Monster in my Mind “busts the myth that OCD sufferers are just neat-freaks and reveals the agony of the real thing”