Here Are The Biggest Misconceptions About OCD, According To Our Mental Health Expert

Although it's natural to double-check your house before leaving or make sure your hands are clean, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have recurring thoughts that drive them to repeat certain behaviors. These intrusive thoughts and behaviors can consume a good chunk of their day and can interfere with their everyday functioning, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Sarah Hunter, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating people with OCD, says OCD isn't as trivial as many people assume when they say, "I'm so OCD." In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Hunter says people don't understand how OCD can be debilitating and can cause a lot of pain.

"It is a leading cause of disability in the United States, and people who have OCD often feel frustrated and hurt when they hear others use the term flippantly in casual conversation," she said. "People who experience compulsions don't do them for pleasure or satisfaction. They feel as if they have no choice but to do them, and it's very difficult for them to move on until their mind says it is ok to do so."

Media stereotypes don't accurately depict OCD

Hunter says the many OCD stereotypes portrayed in the media show characters excessively washing their hands or straightening silverware. These stereotypes can cause people to assume that these are the only themes associated with OCD. Hunter says people might not be aware of other OCD themes.

"Some examples include fear of offending God, fear of being a pedophile, fear of being wrong about one's sexual orientation, and fear of causing harm to others through negligence or loss of control," Hunter said. "Compulsions can take on just about any form imaginable; they are not limited to handwashing or excessive cleaning."

Because of these media stereotypes about OCD, people who have symptoms of other themes of OCD might not seek treatment. For example, someone might fear being a pedophile and not understand this could be OCD. A person with OCD might not exhibit behaviors that appear unusual — for instance, they might pray many times a day for fear of offending God. "The outside observer knows nothing about what is going on in that person's mind, and it would not occur to them that something is wrong," she said.

Hunter adds that someone with OCD can feel such shame for their condition that they engage in their behaviors in secret. OCD is often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed, which can lead to delays in treatment.

People with OCD can't 'just stop'

Someone with OCD can struggle with fears and doubts about what might happen. Then that person feels compelled to address these thoughts with certain behaviors, such as checking to see if a door is locked. A compulsion can also be mental, such as continually reviewing in their mind whether or not the door is locked. Someone who doesn't understand OCD might just assume the person is being difficult. "When this happens, a person who is suffering from OCD is not being intentionally difficult," she said. "They are trapped in a cycle that perpetuates itself and requires treatment to resolve."

Hunter adds that people assume someone with OCD could simply stop a compulsion or thought pattern if they really wanted. "Anyone who has experienced OCD knows that it is simply not that easy," she said. "While OCD is treatable, without professional help it is extremely difficult to stop compulsive behaviors."

It's not that someone with OCD is unaware that their thoughts don't make sense. "People should keep in mind that a person with OCD typically knows that there is something illogical about what they are doing, yet they feel they cannot stop."