The word stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace or infamy. We hear the term used frequently in reference to how mental illness is perceived, and rightly so. But I have to admit that, for me, stigma never seemed to fit quite right when specifically talking about obsessive compulsive disorder. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that the general public thinks that OCD is just not that “big a deal.”
I’ve seen this reaction firsthand. When advocating for college accommodations for my son Dan, some of his teachers, as well as the head of the academic resource center, were skeptical that having OCD warranted any kind of ongoing support. I could see what they were thinking: So he has OCD. He probably spends a lot of time washing his hands and avoiding doorknobs but we’re sure he can work around it (Dan has never done either). And as embarrassing as it is to admit, when Dan first told me he had OCD five years ago, I pretty much had the same reaction: So he has some quirks. It’s no big deal.
Of course, like all loved ones of OCD sufferers, I quickly learned that OCD is indeed a big deal; a really big deal. What I find surprising is the more I connect with those who suffer from the disorder, the more it appears that much of the stigma they’ve encountered over the years has come from those who know how “big a deal” OCD can be: their own families. Of course family dynamics can be quite complicated, and maybe that’s a topic for another post. But no matter what the circumstances, to be stigmatized by those closest to you can be devastating.
Both of these issues, of course, stem from the lack of understanding about obsessive compulsive disorder. For the general public, we need to keep getting the word out as to what OCD really is and is not. While the media hasn’t done a great job of accurately portraying OCD, there are some nuggets of hope. I have written before about Machine Man the Movie and encourage you to visit their site. While there are a number of wonderful organizations that help raise OCD awareness, people tend to only seek them out when OCD has come into their lives in some way, shape, or form. Machine Man the Movie can help raise awareness of the disorder in the mainstream of our society.
And what about within our own families? Inclusion in therapy, participation in open discussion, and education can go a long way toward acceptance and understanding of OCD. It is the least we can do for our loved ones.
So once again it all comes down to the same thing: raising awareness and understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder as much as we can, so that those suffering from it can be treated with the respect and fairness they deserve.