OCD is NOT an adjective. You are not being “SO OCD” right now if you are washing your hands thoroughly. An individual with OCD has a psychiatric disorder — you are following CDC and WHO guidelines.
OCD is a diagnosable disorder that’s the 10th most disabling condition in the world. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.
When people say things like “I wish I had OCD right now” that can actually discourage people who really have this devastating disorder from seeking treatment.
Contamination worry is just one of many subtypes of OCD. People with OCD also might worry they are going to cause terrible events or offend God, or they experience intrusive violent or sexual thoughts, just to name a few of the many lesser-known but common subtypes of OCD.
OCD behaviors are not functional. Following the CDC and WHO guidelines is functional. You do not want to have OCD during these times to “be more cautious” because compulsions don’t help. They are excessive actions performed simply because they reduce anxiety. Those with OCD are really struggling with an extra threshold of fear and that anxiety will continue once the pandemic subsides.
OCD is not an advantage nor is it a solution in this pandemic. People with OCD are not better at hand washing or sanitizing or wearing gloves. In fact, they hate doing these things and these behaviors cause them a great deal of distress.
The level of fear you’re feeling right now as you’re bombarded with messages that the world is contaminated and dangerous gives you a glimpse into what someone with untreated OCD feels like. While feeling this level of anxiety doesn’t mean you have OCD, it helps you empathize with people who are suffering with the disorder.
The skills you learn when overcoming OCD, NOT the disorder itself, make us experts in managing anxiety during this time. People with OCD who’ve been treated with exposure and response prevention therapy have a black belt in managing anxiety and uncertainty because they understand that they have little control over the world, that uncertainty is a given they can handle, and that anxiety is nothing to be afraid of. The OCD community holds the key to managing well in the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all need to support one another in times of global crisis, so please help us spread the word that OCD is not what you think.
Take this as an opportunity to learn more about mental illness and reach out to people who you know have a history of psychiatric difficulties. This is the time to start talking about mental illness and learn what others may be going through. Learn more about OCD at iocdf.org.