Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Awareness Week

11-17 October was OCD awareness week, a week dedicated to educating the general populace about the true nature of obsessive compulsive disorder in order to challenge its relative trivialisation in contemporary culture. However this week kicked off with exactly the type of problematic stereotyping demonstrated in Michelle Mone’s interview on Good Morning Britain which drew a lot of criticism. Watchers were quick to take issue with her self-diagnosis, as well as her description of the disorder as merely reinforcing the trivial stereotype of being neat and organised, even suggesting that this has helped her in business.  What made the whole episode more controversial was that GMB consulted OCD UK about the piece only for their suggested interviewees to be ignored in favour of a more mild option.

The World Health Organisation has actually ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life. You can see why an enormously successful business woman talking openly about her self-diagnosed ‘struggles’ on TV, whilst simultaneously announcing her upcoming appointment as a baroness was branded as distasteful. Maybe Mone does have a mild form of OCD, and she would be right in speaking out about her own struggles.  However her self-diagnosis makes a lot of what she says seem invalid, especially as OCD is only actually diagnosed when the problem is either ‘causing them overwhelming distress, and/or when their compulsions take so much time that they can’t get to work or school or do the things they want to do in their daily life.’ (Telegraph)

OCD is a severe and specific anxiety disorder characterised by upsetting, unwanted and inappropriate thoughts. Linked to this is the urge to carry out repetitive actions in order to relieve the anxiety created by the unwanted thoughts. These thoughts can range from feeling dirty, irrational fears over your house being burgled, to graphic sexual contemplations. Following this, people suffering from OCD, might wash their hands so compulsively that they spend hours in the shower, or actually damage their skin in the process. For example, someone might check the locks in their house several times to prevent a burglary. Perhaps what is most frustrating for OCD sufferers is the conscious knowledge that what they are doing is irrational, but nonetheless they cannot control the compulsive urge because of the temporary relief it provides.

In response to the Twitter storm, Mone did allude to an OCD spectrum which certainly exists. However this spectrum is much more to do with the different types of OCD that exist. Often not included in the stereotypes and clichés is that OCD can manifest itself as ‘pure O’ as Rose Bretécher has recently spoken out about this particular form of OCD in a series of articles for the Guardian. Within this, people experience disturbing, unwanted obsessions without observable behavioural compulsions. This might be questioning your relationship and the value of your feelings towards another person, your sexual orientation, your religion, or the obsession of doing harm to others. Other parts of the OCD spectrum goes as far as including phobias, hypochondria and panic attacks.

The idea of an OCD spectrum, as well as ‘mild’ and severe cases, means that the line between real and stereotyped OCD behaviours becomes blurred. It’s certainly not helped by celebrities ‘coming out’ about their OCD. Other than Michelle Mone, Paul Hollywood of the Great British Bake Off, recently spoke out  about his problems, which included the compulsive cleaning of his brand new Aston Martin, which to anyone who has recently bought a new car, seems logical rather than obsessive or compulsive.  Even more high profile was David Beckham’s supposed OCD organisation of coke cans in his fridge.  While no one really knows the extent of their condition, the idea of a celebrity coming out about their struggles seems oxymoronic due to their professional success. There will always be that question of what OCD has done to debilitate their careers, and hence a question over the sincerity in their claims. On our TV screens there are mixed portrayals as well.  The Huffington Post has compiled a list of characters from TV shows with ‘OCD’, some are merely yet more stereotypes, however some are extremely accurate and thought provoking (it might be best to avoid Sheldon Cooper’s portrayal from the Big Bang Theory and concentrate more on Michael J Fox’s performance in Scrubs, or Leonardo Di Caprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes in the Aviator).

So yes, Mone’s interview seemed to reinforce inaccurate stereotypes and quirks of OCD, but is this a case of ‘any publicity is good publicity’? There are no doubts that writers and the general Twittersphere have reacted by posting various articles and facts explaining what OCD really is. The interview from Mone has, at the very least, given OCD awareness week a focal point for discussion. Indeed even this blog post is a consequence of that, and what’s more the whole episode has probably allowed people to educate themselves on the issue. Although people have been quick to condemn Mone and Good Morning Britain, at least people are talking about it, which has saved it from being OCD unawareness week.

-Written by James Jarvis

Sources:

Rose Bretécher –  http://www.theguardian.com/profile/rose-bretecher

Camilla Tominey – http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/camilla-tominey/612778/Camilla-Tominey-Celebrities-OTT-OCD

Jenni Goodchild – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/11935833/No-OCD-is-not-all-about-cleaning-and-believe-me-you-dont-wish-you-had-it.html

Linda Blair – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/mood-and-mind/mind-healing–how-do-you-know-if-you-have-ocd-/

Dr. Max Pemberton – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3258316/DR-MAX-hate-stars-joke-having-OCD.html

OCD LA http://ocdla.com/ocspectrumdisorders

OCD UK http://www.ocduk.org/ocd; http://www.ocduk.org/good-morning-britain-ocd-feature

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