Obsesive Compulsive Disorder is no laughing matter

Robin Withall

Imagine that you’re walking to class with a friend. She is telling you all about her weekend, and even though you find her story interesting, you aren’t paying attention. Instead, you are watching the ground to make sure you don’t step on any cracks in the sidewalk because you have made a secret rule for yourself. You arrive to class 10 minutes early to be sure that your seat is not taken because unless you sit in your usual seat, you will have a panic attack and have to leave class.

Fifteen minutes later, you are taking notes when the professor makes a mistake and has to erase something on the board. You inwardly cringe knowing that while everyone else is content with just crossing out the mistake in their notes, you will now have to re-write that entire page because you do not allow yourself to have anything crossed out in your notebook. Could you live your life like this? You could if you had obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD as it is commonly called) is an anxiety disorder that affects two to three percent of the population. People with the disorder are plagued by unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions) and try to relieve anxiety by performing repetitive actions, such as always sitting in the same seat and counting cracks on the sidewalk as in the example above. Performing these rituals, however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety, says the NIMH.

Recently, the popular television show “Monk” has brought OCD out of the psychiatrist’s office and into the living rooms of millions of viewers. The comedy features a private detective named Adrian Monk (played by Tony Shalhoub) who becomes obsessive-compulsive after his wife is murdered. Though the show may be funny, OCD is no laughing matter for those who have it.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the show,” says a sophomore who was diagnosed with the OCD her freshman year. “It makes [the disorder] look funny instead of showing how horrible it really is.”

Those who live with the disorder build their lives around the obsessions and compulsions of OCD, resulting in problems with personal relationships, academics and other seemingly routine daily activities.

Though the cause is still unknown (many researchers think that genetics may play a large role), there are treatments available for obsessive-compulsive disorder, including cognitive behavior therapy and the use of certain anti-depressants. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be suffering from OCD, psychologists are available at the University Health Center.