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3 myths about obsessive-compulsive disorder, plus some facts

Ever said, "I totally have OCD?" Do you think you really have it, though?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a real mental health issue, but many of us talk about it in a joking way. Like, "I can't even work until my desk is completely organized and all of my pens are facing the same direction. I totally have OCD!"


All images via TED-Ed.

The truth is that OCD is actually a serious psychiatric condition and is so much more than being methodical or meticulous. People who have OCD have an actual disorder — they're not just "Type A" or perfectionists.

That's why Natascha M. Santos broke it down in this TED-Ed video, which you can watch at the end of this post.

Here are three of the most common myths about OCD.

Myth 1: Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors are synonymous with OCD.

There are two parts to OCD:

  1. Obsessions: Intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses.
  2. Compulsions: Behaviors people engage in to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions.

There's a difference between compulsive tendencies and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. OCD is time-consuming and can interfere with work, school, or a person's social life.

There are definitive criteria required for an OCD diagnosis, and those are different than someone who is, say, meticulous about certain aspects of their life.

Myth 2: The main symptom of OCD is excessive hand-washing.

It's easy to picture someone washing their hands a bunch of times every day when we think of OCD — that's one of the most common compulsions portrayed.

But OCD behaviors can take a lot of forms, such as:

  1. Obsessions: Fears of contamination and illness; worries about harming others; preoccupation with numbers and patterns; fear of death, or loved ones dying.
  2. Compulsions: Excessive cleaning and double checking; careful arrangement of objects; walking in predetermined patterns.

Myth 3: Individuals with OCD don't understand that they're acting irrationally.

Lots of us with OCD understand that the relationship between our obsessions and compulsions is irrational or harmful and, at the very least, inconvenient. But that doesn't mean it's easy or even possible to make them stop.

People who have OCD find different ways to cope or manage their symptoms.

It's hard to know that your brain is lying while feeling forced to obey its irrational commands. Fortunately, people with OCD can seek treatment, such as medications, behavioral therapy that gradually desensitizes them to their anxieties, and in some cases, electroconvulsive therapy or surgery if the OCD isn't responding to other treatments.

People who have OCD often use one or more of these options to deal with their obsessions and compulsions. And some people with OCD simply choose to live with their thoughts and actions, and that's OK too.

If you know someone who deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, be patient with them. It's not always easy to understand, but it's a real mental illness that can be difficult to live with.

Bottom line: If you keep your home super-organized but don't think terrible things will happen if you leave a dirty dish in the sink — and if you're actually capable of leaving it there, even if you don't like it — you probably don't have OCD.

Check out Natascha's full explainer here:

This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


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Image via

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