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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?

3 myths about obsessive-compulsive disorder, plus some facts

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:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less