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December 3rd, 2019

Collectively, we need to improve our understanding of OCD

By Dan Whale (HelloSelf)

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder

“I get really OCD about that” is the kind of phrase that is thrown around nonchalantly in current parlance. It is most commonly applied to people’s preference for keeping things clean, but is also used in a general sense to describe being passionate about something being done in a particular way.

This use of the term has, rightfully, drawn criticism. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental condition which takes a significant toll on the day-to-day life of those experiencing it - using it in such a throwaway manner nullifies its severity and only further skewers the way in which OCD is perceived.

But whilst this usage can be incredibly frustrating, it does not necessarily come from malintentions, or even from an attention-seeking place. Rather, it comes through ignorance around what the condition really entails. What’s more, if we begin to demonise those that claim to be experiencing OCD, people that genuinely need help from a mental health professional may not seek it.

Therefore, what is most important is that we clearly establish what OCD is and how it may present.


Whilst many still view OCD as the necessity to keep things clean, obsessive cleaning is only one variation of the condition. In fact, many forms of OCD involve no ritualisation whatsoever. Having constant intrusive thoughts, which may result in no compulsive behaviour, is still a form of OCD.

Common symptoms of OCD include:

  • Recurrent and persistent thoughts that cause distress and are extremely difficult to ignore
  • Worries that extend beyond real-life problems
  • Repetitive behaviours that you feel driven to do in order to reduce significant distress, or even prevent a dreaded event from occurring
  • Spending a significant amount of time each day dealing with obsessions and compulsions
  • Obsessions and compulsions interfering with personal relationships

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you may well be experiencing OCD.

Presentations and variations

There are various examples of how the above symptoms can present themselves. As well as cleaning and handwashing, obsessive counting is another form of OCD, as is checking, asking for reassurance and repeating words in your head. Hoarding is another closely linked variant of the Disorder.

There are also particular variations of OCD that can involve more body-orientated compulsions:

  • Exorciation (skin picking disorder): An obsession with picking at the skin which can cause lesions and infections
  • Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder): An obsession with pulling hair, which may include hair from your head, your eyelashes, eyebrows or from anywhere on your body
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): A medical condition in its own right but closely linked to OCD, BDD is an obsession with perceived flaws in appearance that are not visible to others. The subtype of muscle dysmorphia involves an obsession with gaining size/muscle.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is far more complex and distressing than being a “clean freak” or liking things to be organised. It is common to exhibit elements of certain conditions, but just as being nervous before public speaking does not equate to social anxiety and feeling down is not the same as depression, a few obsessive traits are not OCD.

Improving our collective understanding about what OCD entails will not only prevent us from offending those who are dealing with the condition, but allow those struggling with symptoms to identify what their issue might be.

More information on OCD, including treatment options, can be found here.

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