By now, I’m guessing many of you have read about the latest study which concludes that new moms often experience symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve seen it on the news, in the newspaper, and on quite a few websites. While I find the study interesting, I don’t find it surprising. In fact, almost every new mother I know of (myself included) has exhibited some of the symptoms discussed. These include checking to make sure their baby is breathing, worry over exposure to germs, and fear of falling while carrying their baby.
My concern regarding all the publicity around this study is, once again, the misrepresentation of OCD. I think it’s realistic to assume that many people who read about this study will conclude, “Oh, okay, so that’s what OCD is.” The study also notes that about half the women who reported symptoms after the birth of their children were greatly improved six months later. So it is likely for readers to surmise that OCD often just gets better on its own.
In my opinion, the media should have stressed that these new moms exhibited “obsessive-compulsive symptoms,” not necessarily OCD. They were not evaluated, or even interviewed, by professionals, but rather assessed through surveys. The degree that these symptoms affected their day-to-day lives was not considered. Study researcher Dr. Dana Gossett said, “The extent to which these thoughts and behaviors are ‘normal,’ or whether they ‘cross the line,’ is not entirely clear yet.”
I know that postpartum OCD is real, and there are moms out there who have suffered deeply with this disorder. There are also millions of other people with OCD who suffer intensely with it, day after day. In my opinion, it is necessary to distinguish this population from those who might be experiencing temporary obsessive-compulsive symptoms. I’m not saying these symptoms are not distressing and frightening; I’m just saying they might not be OCD. Misleading headlines and confusing explanations only serve to perpetuate the public’s misconception of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As I’ve said before, we all have thoughts, and often even rituals, that are similar to those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The difference is in the severity. In those with OCD, the thoughts become obsessions, and the rituals turn into compulsions that very well might take over the sufferer’s lives. Those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can be mild, moderate, or severe, are at the very end of this continuum, and we need the media’s help in making this clear.