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by IOCDF Executive Director Jeff Szymanski

‘I’m so OCD.’

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a common phrase we heard both in our day-to-day lives and in the media.

Those who misuse the term OCD rarely intend to do harm. However, by making light of an at times debilitating disorder, they are being dismissive of those who have OCD, and this can have serious consequences. Members of the OCD community say that because they heard people talk about OCD is such an informal and almost teasing way, it actually discouraged them from seeking treatment. Because, after all, everyone is just ‘a little OCD,’ right?

Now, with many of us taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are hearing the phrase being used more and more often, the reasoning being that ‘because we are all worried about getting COVID, we are all acting OCD. And, at least for now, maybe being OCD is a good thing.’ In fact, some individuals who have struggled for many years with an anxiety disorder are feeling validated now that they are seeing aspects of their behavior in everyone else. 

However, there are many differences between having OCD and taking extra precautions due to COVID-19. With COVID-19, there is a real, actual threat, and as a world community we are responding by taking precautions. In the era of COVID-19, our behavior is functional.

This is not what individuals with OCD experience. People with OCD experience intense anxiety and perform compulsions to help alleviate that anxiety. This can overwhelm their lives by getting them caught in a vicious cycle of compulsions. The compulsions that people with OCD perform do not help them function well in life; instead, they do the opposite by preventing effective functioning at work, at school, at home, and in social situations. 

In short, OCD rituals serve no function other than reinforcing OCD, whereas COVID rituals are done to keep you safe.

In the era of COVID-19, we have a rare opportunity to talk about what OCD really is and how the pandemic is uniquely affecting the OCD community. We have an opportunity to talk about how some individuals in our community are showing more resilience than the average person because they have gotten effective treatment and have more skills to deal with uncertainty and anxiety. This is also an opportunity to consider moving away from an oversimplification of OCD as just being a ‘germaphobe’ to whom we can now all relate. 

Take this opportunity to reach out to someone you know who may have OCD or another mental illness and see how they are coping. Now is the time for the average person to get more curious about what it really is like to have a serious mental disorder.

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