We know it can be difficult to broach the topic of mental illness with friends or loved ones, especially to educate them on a term they’re misusing. For that reason, we’ve developed this short guide to help you educate friends and family from a place of compassion.

Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of addressing someone’s OCD joke:


Be informed.

Read up on what OCD is and how common it is. If you have the disorder or know someone who does, then you may already have a good baseline of knowledge about it. But it can also be helpful to have some statistics in your back pocket, like that OCD is the 10th most disabling condition in the world. Also, check out our myths vs facts sheet, which addresses common ways that OCD is misused.

Be ready.

Starting a conversation about OCD can be hard to do. But you can make it easier by anticipating the situation and imagining how you would react so you have a plan. Feel free to use the one-liners below to help. 

Start a conversation.

When addressing someone’s joke about OCD, you have a choice to make: You can use the one-liners below and then change the subject, or, if you like, you can use the moment to start a larger conversation about OCD and how mental illness is discussed (or not) in your friend group or family. It’s up to you to decide based on the situation whether you’d like to make one quick statement or use the moment to educate others about OCD. Alternatively, you can follow up by sending people educational materials later.

Understand that most of the time, no harm is intended.

Most of the time, when people use the term OCD as an adjective, it’s not because they have any ill intentions. They are simply using a word as they have heard it used. And while that’s not their fault, it is their fault if they get educated but continue to use the word incorrectly. Approaching them with compassion, not making any judgments that they are a "bad person" for it, and remembering that we all have the capacity to change in the future, can make all the difference in how they think about the term moving forward.

Practice self care.

We know that all of this is much easier said than done. So if you’re ever in a situation where someone uses OCD as an adjective and you don’t do something, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes the time just isn't right. If it happened recently, then it’s not too late to send them a quick message. And if you do say something, give yourself a pat on the back for doing a hard thing and taking a step to reduce stigma!


Don’t start a fight.

You’re entitled to be angry when someone makes light of OCD. At the same time, it’s up to you to decide how to respond. If you channel your anger into rage and lash out, it will alienate the other person and potentially affect your relationship with them. Plus, they might not even understand what they did wrong, and, even worse, they might double down on their opinion. Try to stay calm and know that in most cases, no harm is intended.

Don’t feel pressured to disclose.

If you have OCD but don’t want to share your diagnosis, that’s up to you. You don’t have to have a mental illness to be passionate about ending stigma, so unless you want to talk about how OCD has affected your life, there is no need to disclose. Plus, if you have OCD and someone asks you if you do, you can say no.

Don’t use shame as a tactic.

Behavior change research shows that evoking feelings of guilt/shame do not lead to effective change — plus, this can actually have the opposite effect, of people becoming stubborn and “digging their heels in.” Instead, approach the situation with compassion.


  • It is interesting you just said you are “a little OCD”. I think what you meant was everyone can be a little obsessive or a little compulsive. Did you know that OCD is actually a psychological disorder? 
  • People with OCD are not weird or crazy; it's a serious mental illness that causes them great distress.
  • I don’t think we should use a mental disorder as an adjective. Can we think of a different word to use?

Have a successful tip you use that isn't included here? E-mail us at info@iocdf.org to share!

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