No, you’re not ‘so OCD’

Gwen Henry | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

Under the facade of championing awareness of mental health, members of Generation Z have slowly but surely diluted mental illness into nothing more than a trend.

Self-diagnosis is simply the latest unfortunate phenomenon to be borne out of social media. Thanks to the platforms of influencers who are open about their struggles, a staggering 30% of Generation Z reports self-diagnosing mental illness, including anxiety, depression and ADHD.

It is important to destigmatize mental health, and there is power in conversation. However, accepting the existence and impact of mental illness should not mean taking it less seriously — and self-diagnosing does just that.

This is perhaps most clear in the example of obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 2.3% of U.S. adults develop OCD at some point in their lives, which translates to about 1 in 40. So, why do we hear such a greater proportion of people joke about how they’re “so OCD”?

Pop culture has reduced a devastating mental illness to nothing more than a propensity for cleanliness and order.

Of course, this is quite far from the truth. According to NOCD, OCD is marked by a cycle of obsession, distress, compulsion and temporary relief. The following example, based on a real patient, features the severity of obsessions and compulsions.

“Let’s say you’re a 12-year-old kid and you’ve just gotten home from school. You just want to fly through your homework and go spend time with your friends, but your mom reminds you that you still have to clean your room. You start to tidy things up, but then a thought pops into your head: ‘My sister is going to die unless I do this right.’ … Your stomach feels sick, you’re getting dizzy, and you feel like you just have to tell someone about the thought. But it’s a crazy thought, and you know it, so you don’t tell anyone. You put everything back on the floor and try again. You fold your green shirt, and then the blue one, and finally the red. You think, ‘If I don’t get this right in the next two tries, she’s going to die.’”

Clearly, someone with OCD and someone who has a propensity for cleanliness and order are not even comparable. One washes their hands until they’re raw because of a fear of germs and contamination. The other keeps a hand sanitizer bottle in their purse at all times. One repeatedly checks to make sure they turned off the stove due to an intense fear of setting the house on fire. The other likes the kitchen counters to be free of crumbs. One organizes their cans with all the labels facing north because of a need for symmetry. The other is particular about the way they arrange their desk.

We may be led to characterize OCD as a positive thing because we see some of its symptoms, like a propensity for cleanliness and order, as positive. However, it is unfair to those who suffer from OCD for others to claim the disorder as their own. What may seem trendy to outsiders is devastating to those who feel its effects day in and day out.

According to Rolling Hills Hospital, “When you joke about OCD, or any mental illness, the unintentional consequence is that people’s experiences are diminished from a serious mental disorder to nothing more than an idiosyncrasy or quirk — funny little habits that warrant laughter instead of treatment.”

Be cognizant of your words. Take mental illness seriously. Understand that what may be a quirk to you could be a source of trauma to others. Avoid jumping on the bandwagon of self-diagnosis, and seek out professional assistance if necessary.

If you are struggling with OCD or another mental illness, the Baylor Counseling Center offers consultation services, individual therapy and telehealth options, and you can schedule an appointment online. If you are in crisis, you can call the Baylor Counseling Center crisis line at 254-710-2467 or the Baylor Police Department at 254-710-2222.