It’s become part of our lexicon for people to use the names of mental health disorders when describing typical habits or behaviors. For instance, neat people might say “I’m so OCD,” or people in a confusing circumstance might say it’s “schizo” or “bipolar.”
This seems particularly common for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), where anyone who loves a label maker seems to claim the diagnosis. This turns a serious mental health disorder into a fun quirk.
What is OCD?
The group Voices of Hope—which highlights the stories of people with mental health disorders—compiled quotes about what it’s like to live with OCD.
One quote was, “Picture standing in a room filled with flies and pouring a bottle of syrup over yourself. The flies constantly swarm about you, buzzing around your head and in your face. You swat and swat, but they keep coming. The flies are like obsessional thoughts—you can’t stop them, you just have to fend them off. The swatting is like compulsions—you can’t resist the urge to do it, even though you know it won’t really keep the flies at bay for more than a brief moment.”
The obsessive part of obsessive compulsive disorder refers to intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts that take up a considerable amount of time. This word, too, has been co-opted by the general public. People tend to say they are “obsessed” when they mean they really like something.
According to the International OCD Foundation, “’Obsessed’ in this everyday sense doesn’t involve problems in day-to-day living and even has a pleasurable component to it. You can be ‘obsessed’ with a new song you hear on the radio, but you can still meet your friend for dinner, get ready for bed in a timely way, get to work on time in the morning, etc., despite this obsession.
The compulsive part of OCD in particular might make it difficult for people to follow through with responsibilities. Compulsions are behaviors a person engages in to try to decrease their distress or get rid of the obsessions. These behaviors can be repetitive and time-consuming.
How Can We Break the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Disorders?
Bipolar and Schizophrenia, too—or any other mental health disorder, for that matter—are not trivial things. A diagnostic criterion for any mental health disorder is that it significantly affects your day-to-day life.
Language is important; it affects the way we see the world. Just as we don’t want to use words that stigmatize addiction or mental health disorders, we don’t want to use language that trivializes them. It can be hurtful to people living with OCD or another mental health disorder to constantly see people making light of their serious condition.
It is important to talk about mental health to break the stigma surrounding it. If someone mentions OCD or another disorder in this way, there’s no need to shame them. These ways of speaking are part of our discourse; most people don’t intend to be harmful. Perhaps these moments are a chance to open up a much-needed conversation about mental health.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a life of lasting recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.