OCD and School

By Paul Gooddy, Freedigitalphotos.net

By Paul Gooddy, Freedigitalphotos.net


At the time I wrote last week’s post about early treatment for children, I didn’t realize it was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I’d like to continue the focus on children for one more week as, thanks to my friend Nancy over at The “In” Librarian, I’ve been thinking a lot about young OCD sufferers and school.

Imagine this scenario: An eight-year-old distraught girl musters the courage to confide in her teacher that she fears she might seriously harm her classmates. She arranges the items on her desk in a particular manner to keep anything horrible from happening. The teacher, alarmed, follows her school’s protocol, and before you know it, the “authorities” are involved, the girl is traumatized, her parents are upset and confused, and goodness knows what else happens.

Now imagine this same scenario, except the teacher in question has a basic understanding of various brain disorders, including OCD. After asking the girl a few questions, it is obvious to the teacher that this child is terrified of her obsessions, has no desire to hurt her classmates but rather desperately wants to keep them safe, and organizes her desk compulsively to make sure everything is “all right.” The teacher arranges a meeting with the appropriate counselors, as well as the girl’s parents, a referral to a therapist who specializes in treating OCD follows, and official diagnosis and treatment begins.

What a difference a little education can make. I believe all school administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors should receive basic training in mental health issues. Explanations of common disorders, their warning signs and symptoms, as well as the steps that should be taken to help children suffering from various illnesses, should all be included in workshops and discussions for educational professionals.

I also believe students should receive this same education, in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Not only will this information aid in making children more compassionate toward, and less fearful of, those with brain disorders, it will also help them recognize any warning signs they themselves might have or develop. Children can be amazingly accepting. Many of you might be familiar with the heartwarming story of Brad Cohen, an elementary school teacher with Tourette syndrome, who was rejected twenty-four times before being hired to teach the lower elementary grades. He explained his disorder to his class at the beginning of each school year, and that was it (from the children’s perspective anyway).

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of educating children is that providing them with information on brain disorders will likely decrease the stigma associated with all types of mental illnesses. Indeed, we always talk about “reducing the stigma.” But if we start educating children early enough, maybe we could even “erase the stigma.” If our children can grow up never even knowing the stigma of brain disorders, there would be nothing to reduce. And what an accomplishment that would be.


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22 Responses to OCD and School

  1. Tea and OCD says:

    Very true. Schools need to include mental health awareness in their protocol. Even having the basic understanding of what to look for in possible signs could be helpful to not only the student but also the teacher and classmates. If a child has OCD and a simple change in class can ease the anxiety it will be helpful to everyone. Even general anxiety can be helped or at least acknowledge by a caring teacher can help lesson the amount of time missed in school.

    • Thanks for your comment, and I agree that in a classroom setting, helping just one student helps the entire class as well as the teacher. There are so many benefits to educating school personnel and students about mental health issues; I really hope more schools will adopt this policy.

  2. So true. As a student with OCD I have to judge how people will react to my condition before opening up about it. I experienced one teacher who himself claimed to be “so OCD” so on seeing my information I quickly became the butt of all his jokes. However today I had a panic attack whilst on top of a giant zip wire and my key worker helped me. I was saying that I was going to chuck her off etc, and she just said “no you are not” and held me tight. I appreciate her attitude and awareness to the condition so much.

    • I am so sorry you have had to deal with a teacher who is so ignorant about OCD. To me this is unacceptable, and I’m wondering if there is a teacher or counselor you trust who could speak to this teacher and/or help you deal with the situation? Nobody should be treated that way. You are so right that an understanding and caring attitude goes a long way. I wish you all the best.

  3. I think that would be a great idea, to start educating kids as early as possible. Besides helping to get rid of stigma in the newest generation, it could help kids who are experiencing early symptoms of mental illness. Children don’t know what it is like to be anything other than themselves. If a child hears voices or believes certain things, those voices and beliefs are real. If a child feels sad and angry and thinks about ending his life, that is just his world. If we can teach them to recognize symptoms and talk to an adult about them… in exactly the same way that they tell their mom or ask to go to the nurse if they have a stomachache… it could help a lot with early intervention, and keep the child from beginning to think there is something “wrong” with him.

    • I think you bring up a good point, Angel (if I may call you Angel :)) that children don’t really have the frame of reference to distinguish between what is “normal” and what might be a problem. Another reason to educate them as early as possible. Thanks for commenting!

  4. asgolbeck says:

    I love this post. As someone who began suffering from OCD in elementary school, I wish I had received some sort of education explaining the warning signs of the disorder (all that time, I thought the mental rituals I performed were helping me!). Like the little girl in the scenario, my obsessions are centered around the fear of harming others, so an early education on OCD symptoms would have been beneficial in that it would have saved me lots of time by not worrying whether or not the thoughts made me a “bad person”.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, and I’m sorry you didn’t get that support that would have been so helpful when you were in school. I hope you are doing well now. I appreciate your insight!

  5. Em Jack says:

    Oh my goodness, Janet! This is so dead on the way to go I just want to cry!!! How do we make this happen? Truly – how? I am willing to participate in a grassroots rally to get this ball rolling.

    As we were working with my dd school counselor on a 504 plan we found it was really just a generic plan of accommodations.

    Here’s what I would like to say/scream from the roof tops! I beleive our school systems are antiquated with our current 504 plans & IEP’s. They address certain issues from long ago not to say they don’t still exist it’s just that we now have such a huge influx of mental illnesses in our schools that as you say educating the school’s faculty & administrators on how these issues can be better dealt with is necessary.

    Thank you so much, Janet


    • Thank you for your insight, Em Jack, and I agree with you.This is important. Parents of children with OCD can certainly help to inform and educate teachers, but there should be professional training and education workshops as well. I don’t remember where I read it, but I think California might have recently enacted some laws to put this type of education into place….maybe worth looking into?

  6. Thank you for this post! I completely agree with you. I think education is essential for understanding.
    I homeschool my kids but my instinct when my daughter’a OCD was keeping her from her activities with her friends was to educate he friends. It was a very difficult time and my daughter was ok with it but I questioned if it was a good idea. Her GS Troop was open to me coming an speaking. Another person I contacted who had been personally very supportive, told me she had to ask parents first and then never followed up. Part if me felt so sure about it because after all- of my daughter had a “physical illness”, they would have sent cards and she would have been showered with love and support. She was 11 at the time (last year) and it seamed to me that gaining support from her friends was really important.
    I never did speak to any group but did share some information and links to several of her close friends and to her cousin- their parents- who then shared with their kids.
    But I am glad for this post to Leo me revisit this idea. My daughter is 12 and doing much better and already reached out to another girl we age with OCD- by sending a letter- our therapist connected us to the family and try were in agreement. So she wrote a letter that she gave to her therapist who give it to this other girl. But our daughter opted for us to not read the letter.
    She is 12 and very active with her friends- daily on line and we are increasing the in person get together a as well as working to increase her participation in activities.

    • Thanks for sharing, Gina, and I’m glad to hear your daughter is doing much better and is actively involved with friends. I’m sorry it didn’t work out with you speaking in front of her GS Troop (I bet you would have been amazing :)) but you need the support of others to make something like that work. Wishing your family all the best!

  7. woodge1 says:

    I hope others with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) gain hope from this comparison, and I hope teachers and administrative staff read this and learn to understand it. I have OCD too, and it made my 12 years of elementary and secondary school torture.
    Now I myself help others with OCD.
    The next step is to find therapy that works. OCD responds quickly to a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy known as Exposure-and
    -Response-Prevention (ERP). Find a caring therapist who specializes in ERP for OCD. The path to recovery is simple and logical. By voluntarily experiencing small samples of the ideas you get ‘stuck’ on, and then resisting the compulsion to do something, ask, check, worry or wash repeatedly, you learn to tolerate, and eventually ignore, the distressing obsessive thought. Your therapist works with you to help discover which obsessions are the least frightening, and you

    begin to practice successfully with the easiest ones, and gradually progress through your list to the most difficult ones. In my practice, I have seen that recovery for a child can come in as little as a few months, and very young children can recover in just a few weeks! (Adults take a little longer to recover, from 4-10 months, depending on how long they’ve lived with OCD. The same therapy is used with all ages.) You can call me and talk about this for free at (631) 486-4818. Read more about OCD at ocd dot hereweb dot com

  8. 71 & Sunny says:

    Oh that would be AWESOME, Janet! Yes, there would be no stigma to erase!

    You know, that is the thing that worries me about my fellow OCD sufferers who struggle with intrusive thoughts. Uneducated people can make all kinds of wrong assumptions and really cause hurt and damage. No wonder so many of them are so afraid to speak their fears out loud!

    • You are so right, Sunny. I think we’ve all likely heard stories of those with OCD being mistaken for pedophiles, etc., when the truth is they would never hurt a fly. We have to keep spreading the truth!

  9. Yes, yes, yes! Educate the children as early as possible. And the teachers, too. I do think it will be a while before we see this happen everywhere, though. I think there’s so much stigma in adults, it’s hard for them to not think the worst when a child acts “weird.” It will take years of repeating the education over and over. But we have to start somewhere.

  10. Great post, and like you say it makes such a big difference when a teacher notices, and is informed about things like mental illness. Best wishes

  11. obsessivelady says:

    I agree 100% that school teachers and students need to be better aware of mental health disorders. Fortunately for me, a teacher noticed my OCD when I was 12 and immediately spoke to my parents and got me counselling. I think this reflected really well on the education system.

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