Features — 07 April 2017

By Konnor McIntosh @easymoney_mac

When mental health disorders are discussed in social circles, they are often met with condescension or downright disrespect.

Think of how many times in casual conversation phrases like “don’t be retarded” come out or when people joke about someone being “bipolar.”

Mental health issues, especially among men, often get a less serious reaction because men don’t want the label of “soft” thrown at them.

One mental health disorder that can interfere with almost every day-to-day activity is OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It can be talked about casually the same way as bipolar disorder or autism, and the question becomes, is OCD taken seriously enough?

If it isn’t, then the ones who do suffer through it are being done a great disservice.

OCD is common and affects more than 200,000 people annually, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) describes the symptoms of OCD as “having unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors.”

Some examples of these may include: a fear of germs, the need to arrange objects in a specific manner, the need to constantly wash your hands or spend countless hours organizing clothes in your closet by specific color groups.

While many experience a brief “OCD moment” resulting in a compulsive need to change or reorganize something (think when you see a picture hanging on a wall crooked) what people with actual OCD go through is vastly different. NIMH describes OCD symptoms as interfering with day-to-day activities for an hour or more.”

For someone unaware of the symptoms of the disorder, hearing “I couldn’t complete an assignment because I couldn’t stop washing my hands” will sound downright ridiculous, but for people with OCD it is the unfortunate truth.

For LPC student Oscar Garcia, his symptoms have gradually gotten better with counseling, but they did have an effect on school.

“Often times I would be at home trying to complete an assignment, but I couldn’t do it unless everything around me was perfectly organized,” Garcia said.

He also mentioned how his parents would mockingly criticize him making sure that dishes were uniform in organization in the cabinets and other small things that weren’t necessarily the end of the world.

OCD symptoms are often noticed in children by parents or teachers, but the severity of the disorder is amplified when adulthood sets in due to added responsibilities. Adults are generally aware of what they are doing more than children, but some are still unaware that what they are doing is out of the ordinary.

OCD patients can’t control the impulse and don’t enjoy doing repetitive activities, but the added sense of anxiety when not doing the activity gets relieved when it is completed.

Although not the same as an addiction, people who smoke cigarettes often describe a similar feeling.

Scientists have discovered differences between OCD and non-OCD patients’ brain structures in the frontal cortex, which may lead to more clues about how genetics impact the disease.

One solution, other than medication, which can help limit the effects of the compulsion, is avoiding environments that trigger it. One of the dangers of OCD is not the compulsive tendency itself (because the severity differs in everybody) but the anxiety induced reactionary measures to cope with it.

Alcohol and drug use is common for people with OCD in order to cope with anxiety, and this can lead to another addiction in itself.  The ADAA reports that 26 percent of hospital visits in the U.S. are related to anxiety disorders. Alcohol and drugs can start a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

While OCD may not be an impairment as serious as bipolar, autism, or some other mental health disorders, education and awareness will make things a little easier on everyone involved in the end.

“When my symptoms don’t pop up, I can live a normal life just like anyone else,” Garcia said. “But what I would like to see is more education from teachers or employers about some of the roadblocks we can face in trying to accomplish tasks.”

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