This will not be a comprehensive post. Why? Because I’m pretty tired today and simply don’t have the energy (or time!) to put in the research to make this a comprehensive post. But hopefully it will stir up some discussion at least.
So let’s do what surely has been done many times before and talk about OCD in the media. Frankly, the media I tend to consume doesn’t really mention OCD too much (besides books specifically addressing the topic). But I’m sure that you can think of at least one (if not a few) nods to obsessive compulsive disorder in TV shows, movies, books, etc. To jog your memory: “As Good As It Gets,” “Monk,” etc. I’ve heard there is a good British movie about OCD but I think it’s rated R, so alas, I haven’t seen it.
I’ve also heard mention of OCD in crime television shows, wherein the OCD “made” the suspect commit such and such crime or murder.
So that’s always nice for those of us with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Sarcasm aside, how do you feel the media does at portraying OCD? Obviously I have strong opinions about how our society at large often trivializes and makes light of OCD, referring to it as a personality trait or quirk instead of a mental health problem. But where did our society at large learn to do this? From the media? From previous generations? Both? Somewhere else completely different?
The issue I have with the media’s portrayal of OCD (in most cases) as something silly, quirky (or criminally dangerous) is that it perpetuates negative stigmas and can delay diagnosis. People see what the media terms “OCD” and, because we can’t expect everyone to be well versed in the various symptoms of all mental illnesses, that is what they think OCD actually is like. Sometimes it is widely inaccurate. Sometimes it shows only a narrow slice of what obsessive compulsive disorder can be (germ phobias or contamination worries, for instance). And these little glimpses influence and (mis)educate the viewer.
In regards to diagnosis delay, it isn’t uncommon for someone to think, “I must not have OCD because I don’t [worry about germs]” or “[wash my hands over and over again]” or “[have to turn on and off the light switch a certain number of times.]” But that doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have obsessive compulsive disorder.
How do I know this? Because I was one of those people. I thought I just had anxiety or something of that nature. It wasn’t until my OCD branched into the contamination/hand washing area that I even thought to look into obsessive compulsive disorder at all.
Of course, we can’t really blame the media for not disseminating the information that OCD is a varied and multifaceted disorder. It’s not really the media’s job to inform the masses on mental health conditions. But it would be nice if false information wasn’t spewed out. It would be great if I didn’t have to read a fiction book that described a character as OCD because they were really clean and organized—don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a character with OCD as long as they actually have OCD!
In media’s defense
On the media’s behalf, though, (and I think I’m probably rehashing something that David Adam mentioned in his book or that I read somewhere else), it’s important to remember how hard it is to portray obsessive compulsive disorder visually in a movie or TV show when so much of the intensity of the disorder happens in the mind. The obsessions are hard to get across, so the compulsions are usually what ends up on screen. Most of us with OCD would probably agree that if someone just watched us doing our compulsions without knowing the obsessions behind them, we would look pretty ridiculous and comical: “Why are you tapping the wall three times?” “Why is that person washing her hands three more times when she just washed them?” etc. (It makes me think of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and the whole “Out damned spot!” situation). So maybe we shouldn’t be too harsh on “the media” at large.
But would it be better for the media to just leave OCD alone? Is there a good solution?
I’m not sure. I’d love to hear your thoughts.