Stigma and OCD

What is Stigma?

The textbook definition of stigma is “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach (as on one’s reputation), or a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease.” When something is stigmatized, people look on it with disdain and judge people associated with said “thing.” Examples include sex and certain sexual preferences, drug use (recreational and not), certain religious affiliations such as Atheism or Mormonism, tattoos and of course, mental illness.

There’s an unfortunate stigma associated with having mental health problems. People with mental disorders are often seen as weak, inferior or erratic. The best way to fight stigma is through education and immersion. When people learn more about a stigmatized topic, or meet others who deal with it on a day-to-day basis, their biases can be reversed.

OCD & Stigma

Dr. Weiner discusses OCD stigma and how it impacts sufferers.

How Does it Relate to OCD?

People with OCD fear stigma at work, at home and in their relationships. They worry about being judged or mistreated because of their OCD label. This fear is very harmful. It keeps sufferers from seeking help and talking to others about their problems. It can also seep into other aspects of life. People with mental health conditions have cited discrimination in the workplace, at school, when trying to get loans or insurance, and even in daily interactions with friends and family.

Stigma from others sounds like:

  • That person is crazy.
  • I can’t trust being around him/her because of their OCD.
  • They aren’t as fit for the job because they have a mental condition.
  • I don’t want to date a person with a mental disorder.
  • Mental illnesses make people violent.
  • People with OCD shouldn’t be parents.

Stigma towards yourself sounds like:

  • I’m a monster for having these thoughts.
  • No one’s ever going to love me.
  • If people know that I have this condition they’re going to treat me differently.
  • I don’t deserve to be a part of society.
  • I’m going to be fired from my job.
  • I can’t be an active member in society.
  • I’ll never be a parent.
  • I can’t have a healthy marriage.

OCD isn’t a defect or disability. It doesn’t make a person less human, less lovable or less worthy of happiness. Repeat that to yourself. Say it out loud.

OCD means you have a highly active brain. It does the exact same thing as everyone else’s, just at a higher frequency. Unlike non-sufferers, there’s an anxiety paired with your thoughts that can make certain aspects of life more difficult. This is not something to be ashamed of.

What Can I Do About it?

Combatting stigma starts with understanding your worth. If you don’t have confidence in yourself and your abilities, no one will. You must also remind yourself that you aren’t alone. Many people suffer with OCD. About 2.3% of the population between ages 18 and 54 has the disorder. That’s about 1 in every 200 adults. And it doesn’t discriminate. Men and women have OCD. People of all ethnic groups and nationalities battle the condition. There is a community of support out there.

Surround yourself with friends and family that believe in you. Reach out to organizations or online forums that connect sufferers with one another. Read and listen to uplifting stories of successful treatment. Doing so will be a constant reminder that while OCD is a challenge, it does not have to ruin your life or your self-worth.

Next, look into treatment options. Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the recommended treatment for OCD sufferers. ERP is when you voluntarily expose yourself to the source of your fear over and over and over again, without acting out any compulsion to neutralize or stop the fear. By repeatedly facing something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is.

There are other treatment options as well. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors. Patients are taught problem-solving skills during therapy lessons and then instructed to practice them on their own time in order to build positive habits.

Regardless of the route you choose, the beginning of any therapy often involves the removal of stigma-based thinking. You will work to overcome the negative things you’ve been taught to think about yourself and your OCD. Your loved ones may be given homework as well, so that they can understand your situation and educate themselves on the specifics of your disorder. Unfortunately, some family members may not be healthy participants. Do not let the judgements of others keep you from bettering your life.

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