OCD in The Media

 renjith krishnan, freedigitalphotos.net

renjith krishnan, freedigitalphotos.net

Almost three years ago, I wrote a post expressing my frustration with the way OCD and other brain disorders were typically portrayed in the media. Since that time, there have been glimmers of hope: The movie Silver Linings Playbook (which I have seen) and the HBO show Girls (which I have not) seem to portray more realistic pictures of life with mental illness. The media was on the right path.

Or so I thought.

I recently came across this article about an upcoming movie and the heading made my heart drop: “Denzel Washington is a Killer With OCD in The Equalizer.” I don’t know how OCD will be portrayed in this movie, but the fact that “OCD” and “killer” are in the same sentence is enough to make me cringe. Here is an excerpt of what Mr. Washington has to say about OCD:

“You can be obsessed with a lot of things. It’s just that, OCD seems that people know certain things; people count or wash their hands or things like that. You could be obsessed with microphones or phones or chairs. I don’t know what makes it happen, but it’s just obsessive behavior…. I think it’s the fear. You fear something, so you try to handle it. I don’t know if ‘control’ is the word for it.”

It seems to me that an actor portraying someone with OCD should have a deeper understanding of the disorder. Of course, that’s not what bothers me the most. What bothers me is the association between the words “killer” and “OCD.”   I am concerned about OCD being depicted accurately. As we know, the obsessions connected to OCD are always unwanted and never acted upon. Violent obsessions (in addition to other obsessions) torment OCD sufferers because they totally go against who they are, and how they live their lives. Will this movie make this clear? I guess we will just have to wait and see, but I’m not feeling too optimistic.

I have higher hopes for the indie film, The Road Within, which recently premiered at the LA Film Fest. Dev Patel (from Slumdog Millionaire) plays a young man with OCD, and the two other main characters in the movie suffer from anorexia and Tourette syndrome. In this article, Dev talks about the tremendous responsibility of playing a character with OCD:

To play a character with OCD felt like a tremendous responsibility.” – See more at: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/patel-i-needed-persuading-for-road-30368472.html#sthash.hearaDX8.dpuf
To play a character with OCD felt like a tremendous responsibility.” – See more at: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/patel-i-needed-persuading-for-road-30368472.html#sthash.hearaDX8.dpuf

“I met people with OCD and read tons of books. After meeting the real sufferers, you realise how serious this infliction is, and its torment. It can consume the person to the point where they can’t step out of their own bedroom.”

For those whose lives have not been touched by OCD, the media likely plays a huge role in their perception of  the disorder. And while, overall, I am pleased that OCD continues to receive attention, what we want and desperately need, is the right attention. Whether that will be the case with these two movies remains to be seen.

I met people with OCD and read tons of books. After meeting the real sufferers, you realise how serious this infliction is, and its torment. It can consume the person to the point where they can’t step out of their own bedroom.” – See more at: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/patel-i-needed-persuading-for-road-30368472.html#sthash.hearaDX8.dpuf


This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to OCD in The Media

  1. Kzren says:

    Unfortunately you are right, I believe through the media that a lot of people just think OCD sufferers are quirky, eccentric, or odd. Have you seen the Aviator with Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying Howard Hughes. I had a hard time getting through the bad language in the movie, but I thought it did a good job. And it seems like I remember reading an article where I think Jeffrey Schwarz worked with DiCaprio to gethim in the mindset of someone with OCD. The show Obsessed on aetv that aired a couple of seasons, I think did a really good job. I wish that show would have continued.

    • Hi Karen,
      I have not seen The Aviator but have heard that it is one of the movies that came close to “getting it right.” I never saw Obsessed. Thank you for your comments and let’s hope the media keeps going in the right direction!

  2. Karen says:

    Oops! My name is Karen, not Kzren….darn keyboard!! 🙂

  3. 71 & Sunny says:

    Ugh my first thought was, “Oh no!” I have to be honest here, my fear about this is selfish. I have told almost every single person in my life that I have OCD. Most of the time I’m completely OK with this, but when stuff like this comes up in the media, I always wonder if people are going to think that I could be a criminal or something some day. And that freaks me out. But I’m hoping that the people who know me, KNOW ME, and don’t let some stupid movie change what they think (or think they know) about me. I really hate this stuff. : (

    • Thanks for your comment, Sunny. I think everyone who is connected with OCD in some way, shape, or form, could be called “selfish” (though I don’t think that’s the right word) in these situations. How can we not take it personally, or relate these misrepresentations of those with OCD, to ourselves, and our loved ones? I think that’s one of the reasons why it is so upsetting to us.

  4. Okay, I’ll sit and see what these movies are like and how they portray it, as well. I’m ready to cheer or to take action if need be! – Angie

  5. Denzel Washington’s comment doesn’t make me too optimistic about that movie. He doesn’t seem to have a grasp of what OCD is. And I am concerned, too, that “killer” and “OCD” are so closely linked. I guess we will just have to try to educate the best we can in spite of movies like this.

  6. Thanks for highlighting these two films – I shall certainly look out for them. It sounds as if Dev Patel has done a decent amount of research, which is a promising start. As others have said, I’m rather less confident about the Denzel Washington film – the heading is definitely a concern. Fingers crossed those of us who know about OCD don’t have to spend all our time putting people straight as to the realities of the condition upon these films’ releases!

  7. Thanks for commenting, Helen. I’m just hoping The Equalizer won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating!

  8. Brenda says:

    You are right Janet the words “OCD” and “Killer” just made my Heart Sink!! People already have a lot of odd thoughts about what OCD truly is—and this could come across as another misunderstanding of what OCD is like! People with OCD are truly some of the most harmless people I have ever known, they are usually afraid of someone hurting them!!

    “The Aviator” was one of the better movies explaining how tormenting OCD could be—And Leonardo DiCaprio was excellent, it is said he also has OCD, maybe that is why he did such a good job on the movie.

    I will keep my fingers crossed that this movie doesn’t do more harm for all of us who live with this disorder daily—but it doesn’t sound very good at all!!!

  9. Em Jack says:

    Hi Janet –

    Once again thank you for posting this information.

    I read Angie’s comment about watching the film & if she likes the depiction of OCD … great … if not she will take action. I have been wanting to take action but am not sure how or where to do this. Angie, if you don’t mind I would like to join in.😕 Pls contact me here or through my personal email.

    Given the level of OCD & BPD 2 in our home (just a little stressful as we often set each other off – we’re working on this) we often feel we have an obligation to educate folks. We do this by openly talking with family, friends, sometimes others out side this comfort zone.

    In light of my mention of education – if you are so inclined to take a minute or 3
    to read up on BPD2. (I particularly like the description by Wikipedia). It likely will be a moment of discovery! Just doing my bit on broadening the educational base of shared information.

    Enough about that …there are BPD. blogs out there. Thank you for indulging me. Pls know I won’t use this forum to mention other mental illnesses in the future.

    Thank you,


    • Hi Em, Thanks for your comment, and I have absolutely no problem with you mentioning BPD or any other brain disorder on my blog. I read as many blogs as I can about mental illnesses, in the hopes of becoming more educated. The problem is there are not enough hours in the day to read and learn everything I want to! I’d like to think we all do the best we can and that we support each other, even if we don’t always totally understand what others are going through. I appreciate your support and comments and wish you and your family all the best.

  10. Carrie says:

    I will have to be on the lookout for these movies. The Road Within looks particularly interesting. I have a question. When explaining the difference between real OCD and the way it’s typically (characteristics more in line with OCPD but most likely not that either), how do you explain the sub-type of OCD that has to with symmetry. No one has asked me this, but I have trouble telling the difference in my own mind. I have never suffered with symptoms related to symmetry OCD, so I’m ignorant about this. Do you have any insight you could share?

    • Hi Carrie, Thanks for your comment. I think what you’re asking is how does “symmetry OCD” differ from OCPD? I’m not a professional and I’m not an expert, but I think it comes down to the basic differences between the two disorders. While those with OCD and those with OCPD might both need to have things in order, or “just so,” those with OCD do not enjoy having to do these compulsions, they feel they have to (to keep themselves or loved ones safe, for example). Their symmetry compulsions are unwanted and cause distress, and OCD sufferers typically realize their actions are not rational. Those with OCPD, on the other hand, feel good about how they are living their lives and believe their way is the right way. If anyone else would like to chime in (calling all experts :)), I’d love to hear from you!

  11. Carrie says:

    Yes, that was pretty much what I was asking. I’m still wondering about people who want to have things ordered and organized and lined up a certain way who don’t necessarily want to be that way. They don’t think anyone will be harmed by not doing these things, but they feel they have to do them and they don’t particularly enjoy doing them. As I talk to people about OCD, I just want to make sure that I’m not saying that something isn’t OCD when it fact it may be.

    • Perhaps the scenario you are mentioning might be someone with mild OCD. I understand your concern about giving your opinion regarding what is OCD and what isn’t. I face the same issue, and typically will suggest people get a professional opinion if they have concerns. If you are just having a conversation with someone about OCD and are a bit confused yourself, it might be a perfect opportunity to stress how complicated and confusing a disorder OCD can be (which is a great reason to talk with an expert)!

  12. Leonardo DiCaprio actually have OCD in real life and have spoken about it before. http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/cf/slideshows/7#slide=1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s