Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, but it is also one of the least understood. Many of us have preconceived notions of what OCD entails, especially if you’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator, or Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets.
It is estimated that 1 in 50 U.S. adults suffer from OCD, an anxiety disorder that takes many different forms, and is more prevalent than bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and panic disorder.
Whether you or someone you know has OCD, it’s important for us to rid ourselves of the many misconceptions of the disorder.
Myth #1: Every “Neat Freak” has OCD
We all know that person whose kitchen is spotless, living room is perfectly arranged and immaculate, and who always seems to be cleaning. They must have OCD, right? Not necessarily. Being clean and orderly doesn’t translate into OCD in most instances. Someone may value a clean home or office, but only those feeling overwhelmed by anxiety because of dirtiness or when something isn’t neatly arranged, actually have OCD (and not everyone with OCD is concerned about cleanliness).
So your family member or friend may seem to be constantly cleaning, but they may be doing it because they value cleanliness, keeping up appearances, or any number of reasons that do not involve anxiety. It’s only when anxiety strikes due to unclean surroundings that an individual may have OCD.
Myth #2: OCD Only Affects Adults
While it’s true OCD is most prevalent among adults, children also develop the anxiety disorder, and signs of OCD can begin in a child as young as 4 years old. About 1 in 200 children have OCD, meaning an average-sized elementary school has a handful of students with OCD, while a medium-sized high school will have around 20 students dealing with the disorder.
Myth #3: Stress Causes OCD
It’s easy for us to tell someone with OCD to just relax, and stop stressing over particular things, but it should be remembered that OCD is a mental disorder, and quite complex. Stress alone does not cause OCD, although the disorder can be exacerbated by stress. So a stressful week at work may cause OCD symptoms to worsen momentarily, but stress itself does not cause an individual to develop OCD.
Myth #4: Poor Parenting Causes OCD
As with other mental disorders, researchers are finding that OCD is not entirely a result of one’s environment growing up, nor is it solely because of genetics, but rather it’s a mix of the two. So parents of someone with OCD should not blame themselves, especially since research on OCD is still in its initial stages, with much more to be discovered in time.
If parents do know or suspect their child has OCD, there are certain triggers that can worsen a child’s OCD. As with many things in life, balance is vital for parents with a child diagnosed with OCD. Parents should not be overly-accommodating to their children (e.g., allowing your child to take a half hour cleaning/arranging their desk before doing homework), but should not be overly-critical or make their child with OCD feel ashamed of their condition. Working with medical professionals and determining the best avenue for treatment is essential for parents of children with OCD.
Myth #5: OCD Impacts Women More Than Men
Whether anecdotal evidence or media influence, many people seem to think women have OCD more so than men. Scientific evidence, however, tells us otherwise. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that both sexes are equally affected by the disorder.
One possible reason for the misconception that women have OCD more than men, is because men often do not express their emotions as openly as women, and men may be less inclined to seek professional help, in dealing with OCD.
Myth #6: OCD Cannot be Treated
There is no known cure for OCD, but it can be effectively treated, so that it ceases to interfere with one’s everyday life. Medical professionals often first suggest a “face-your-fears” therapy, which focuses on exposure and response prevention. Medication is also available, but most mental health experts suggest a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.