5 Ways to Break the OCD Stigma

Here are five ways we can start working towards breaking the stigma

Posted Apr 08, 2019

Stereotypes and stigmas are very common in the world we live in today, especially when it comes to mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People who experience OCD are challenged daily by the effects of their illness. However, additional challenges are created through public misconceptions and stereotypes that begin to generate self-prejudice and personal judgment for suffering individuals.

In honor of World Health Day, it is important to recognize that mental health is just as crucial to highlight as physical health. Mental health is an issue that affects everyone, whether it be through a personal challenge or a loved one’s struggle.

Here are five ways we can start working towards breaking the stigma around mental health in general and OCD specifically. 

1. Recognize and Encourage Equality Between Physical and Mental Health 

Often times, mental health is not valued at the same level as physical health. However, we must recognize that both are equivalent in terms of significance. Mental health includes our psychological, social and emotional well-being which shape how we think, feel, act and respond to the obstacles that life throws our way. How we process these occurrences is deeply dependent on our emotional and psychological state. Many people think that their anxieties are not enough to justify treatment due to current stigmas; however, if we begin to encourage equality between physical and mental health, people may become more empathetic for those struggling. This understanding could help individuals challenged by OCD or other mental health issues to seek help.

2. Stay Educated and Educate Others

There are many growing misconceptions about what OCD is, who it affects and how it affects them. Learning more about OCD and spreading this knowledge will help debunk the popular falsehoods that exist about people who have OCD. One of the most common stereotypes of OCD is that it simply causes people to want to be neat and clean. However, if OCD was as simple as just an urge to organize and rearrange, it would not be considered a mental illness. OCD is so much more than this stereotype. Acknowledging the prevalent facts and reality of OCD will generate more conversations to help change the attitude our culture has towards this disorder.

Here are a few good places to start if you want to educate yourself about OCD:

National Institute of Mental Health: OCD

6 Things Everyone Should Know About OCD

3. Separate the Individual from the Disorder

Recognizing that OCD affects people differently and presents itself in a variety of ways is a vital consideration when separating the individual from the disorder as a whole. Every person suffering from OCD experiences obsessions and compulsions that are unique to them. It is imperative to remember that OCD does not define a person. Moving past this idea will allow people to recognize that everyone struggles with their mental health at varying degrees during some point in their lives. Creating a wider acceptance for those who are feeling isolated by OCD and other mental health issues will help lessen the stigma that many feel in our current society.

4.     Talk Openly About Your Experience

Although opening up to others can be challenging and uncomfortable, learning how to talk openly about OCD and mental health, especially on days such as World Health Day, is an important path in the direction of change. Learning others’ stories and experiences will help break down existing stereotypes, leading to a deeper understanding of the disorder and the different ways it can affect people.

There are many ways people can get involved and be a part of the conversation. To get more involved or join a support group, visit: International OCD Foundation

5.     Seek Help and Support Others

One of the most harmful effects stigmas can create is a reluctance to seek help. Stigma can foster an environment where people do not want to equate their struggles to that of a person who needs to receive medical treatment. The idea of "not being anxious enough" drives those who are struggling away from the possibility of finding comfort during times of adversity. Compounding this issue is the continued stigma around mental health that keeps those who are suffering from seeking out help because they are afraid about what those around them may think.

Realizing that most people will need help from a medical professional at some point during their lives is a key step in destigmatizing OCD treatment and those who receive it. Being aware of the effective treatment options that are available for OCD patients is also essential. Current treatments for OCD can include exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a certified therapist, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and, in cases where patients do not respond to therapy or medication, deep brain stimulation such as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation. These are some of the treatments that might be offered by a licensed doctor or mental health professional to provide solutions to those experiencing the debilitating effects of OCD.

OCD can significantly impact the lives of those affected and their families, but help is available. To learn more, visit Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Treatments and Therapies.

By Eric Hollander MD & Kasey Siegel MA, Spectrum Neuroscience and Treatment Institute