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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Myths and Facts

By: Mary Wilson, MS, LCPC & Karsten Storms, MA, LCPC

It’s a frequent punch-line to a story about a neat-freak: “Oh, that’s just her OCD!” While we think we know what Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is, the many myths about this mental illness can be a barrier in supporting and treating the 1 to 2% of Americans who actually live with OCD every day.

Myth: OCD is primarily a diagnosis for women. Fact: OCD occurs equally in men and women. It affects adults and children as well as people of all races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Myth: Children do not get OCD. Fact: OCD can strike as young as 4 years old, though it is most commonly first identified in individuals ages 6 to 25. Gender can play a role. OCD often occurs in boys between the ages of 6 and 15 and for girls in their 20’s.

Myth: OCD people are always neat and clean. Fact: For many people with OCD, cleanliness is not even an issue. Individuals with OCD have their own unique “obsession” or “compulsion” and actions they may need to do in order to calm their thought processes.

Myth: It’s easy to stop obsessing. Just think about something else. Fact: OCD will often cause “brain lock,” making it exceedingly difficult to even think about another topic until the obsession or compulsion is temporarily resolved. The resulting calm may last only briefly until the cycle begins again.

Myth: OCD cannot be managed. Fact: OCD cannot be cured. However, a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can make a tremendous impact on an individual’s ability to reduce the frequency and intensity of the intrusive thoughts that interfere with daily life. Seeking help for OCD early will help individuals respond even better to treatment.

Myth: OCD comes from poor parenting. Fact: No evidence suggests that parenting has anything to do with contracting OCD. However, it is best to seek behavioral health services as early as possible to begin treating the OCD and structuring the child’s life to avoid parenting styles that may exacerbate the symptoms.

Myth: OCD is easily diagnosed. Fact: OCD is often missed due to a lack of understanding of the true nature and dynamics of the disorder.

Myth: OCD primarily affects outward behavior. Fact: OCD is a mental illness. For some people, the obsessions and compulsions of OCD can be entirely mental with no outward symptoms. You may be sitting next to a person who is both obsessing and completing compulsions and not even notice.

Myth: It helps to just do the compulsion and get it over with so you can focus on something else. Fact: Every time you complete a compulsion you feed the obsession and it gets stronger and will be even harder to resist the next time.

Myth: OCD has no other side-effects outside of its basic symptoms. Fact: OCD can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, fatigue, anger, psychiatric hospitalization and suicidal thoughts and actions. While OCD cannot be cured, treatment can help people to manage OCD and reduce the severity and intensity of the symptoms and side-effects.

Mary Wilson, MS, LCPC, is a Clinical Coordinator at Centerstone. Karsten Storms, MA, LCPC is a Therapist at Centerstone. Centerstone, formerly The H Group, offers comprehensive behavioral healthcare services in Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky.