6 Powerful Ways to Lessen Stigma About OCD

by Kate Haldeman

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most common, but least understood, mental health disorders. Because of the portrayal of OCD in the media, we often confuse reality and fiction about OCD. 

We assume that all OCD relates to cleanliness and/or perfectionism. We may believe that children can’t have OCD. We surmise that OCD is a phase. All these are common myths surrounding OCD. 

If you are an OCD ally like me, then you may be wondering, how can I help? How can I support and encourage those struggling with OCD? 

If you have OCD yourself, you’ve likely compiled a long list of things you wish people understood about OCD. Some of the things listed below regarding support of those with OCD will not be surprising to you. And please, consider adding your own suggestions for other OCD allies wanting to help. 

1. Learn More About OCD

I asked Christopher Falvey, owner of “Yeah OCD” Blog, about the biggest assumptions that people make about OCD. He responded: 

 “The biggest assumption is that OCD manifests itself in the ways you see on TV or movies, and that's it. OCD is multifaceted. Some people don't even have outward compulsions... meaning they're internalizing all of the brain lock. Because this doesn't look "OCD" as it has been presented in the media... people are more prone to think all sorts of negative things.” 

 Like many others, I’ve held assumptions about OCD that I’ve needed to correct over time. The first step in changing these assumptions is to learn more about OCD. Below are some of the easiest ways to do this: 

2. Speak Up About OCD

When someone makes a joke or unfair comment about OCD, speak up. When someone jokes about mental health, it is a microaggression. Someone may think that it’s “not a big deal,” but it often takes a toll on those affected.

Many mental health professionals describe microaggressions as “Death by a thousand cuts.” (1) Every time someone makes a poor joke about mental health, it harms those who are struggling.

How you respond to a microaggression will depend on a lot of factors. Kevin Nadal explores this concept further. He suggests asking yourself questions such as, “Will my physical safety be put in danger?” and “If I respond, will the person become defensive, and will this lead to an argument?” For the complete list of questions, read this article, https://advancingjustice-la.org/sites/default/files/ELAMICRO%20A_Guide_to_Responding_to_Microaggressions.pdf (2) 

Consider asking, “What do you mean by that?” Or, “I have struggled with OCD/have a friend/family member that has struggled with OCD. These kinds of jokes are difficult for me for these reasons...” 

3. Create An Empathetic Environment

As humans, we all have the inherent psychological need to feel understood. Empathy involves feeling “with” a person. (3) This means building a bridge of understanding based on shared experiences.

If you love someone with OCD, strive to create an empathetic environment. You can start this journey by listening. Ask the individual how you can best help and support them in their OCD journey. Always refrain from judgment and making fun of the person. Never downplay the power of the thoughts and compulsions in OCD. 

4. BUT... Refrain From Participating In Rituals 

When you love someone with OCD, it may be tempting to engage in their rituals. It is more simple to follow requests than to fight them. In complying, you feel that you are being empathetic and helpful. But, research shows that family accommodation of OCD behaviors leads to resistance to therapy. (4) 

It can be better instead to maintain a routine and try to step down participation in OCD rituals. 

5. Get Support 

Life is very complicated. We need others to help us along the journey. If you or someone you love is experiencing OCD, you need a support team. But, don’t include just anyone on your team. Be choosy about this team. Include individuals who are kind, caring, and compassionate. 

It may help to seek support from others who are experiencing similar things. A great place to start looking for support groups is here: https://iocdf.org/ocd-finding-help/supportgroups/online-and-phone-ocd-support-groups/ Also, be sure to ask a qualified mental health professional for suggestions. They may know of available support groups in the area.

6.Become An Advocate 

Donate time or money to an OCD related organization. There are many worthy organizations out there, some of which are listed below: 

You can also become an advocate for the International OCD Foundation. Find more information at this link:  https://iocdf.org/get-involved/ocdvocate/

Conclusion

OCD is a common and serious mental health condition. We all have a role to play in supporting those struggling with OCD. Let’s do our part to encourage education, insight, and advocacy. What did I miss in the above article? Please comment below and let me know. 

Kate Halderman, LPC, Ed.S., NCC

Author Bio

Kate Haldeman is a licensed professional counselor, mental health advocate, and writer. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Indiana Wesleyan University and a Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Clemson University. She has worked in a variety of mental health settings including inpatient mental health, non-profit organizations, and university mental health services. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and sexual trauma. In January of 2020, she moved from the U.S. to Zambia and started the blog Mental Health Memoirs (https://www.mentalhealthmemoirs.com). This blog centers on expatriate mental health and gives genuine accounts of people's mental health experiences. 

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