How to Explain OCD to Others

It’s difficult enough to live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Never mind trying to explain it to others.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than constantly checking to make sure the door is locked. It’s a mental health condition that causes tendencies of excessive orderliness, perfectionism, and attention to detail. ¹

If you struggle with OCD, then you’re most likely already well aware of the qualities and symptoms of this condition. However, those around you probably aren’t so keen on the topic.

This isn’t out of the ordinary. While most people don’t mean harm when trying to help others with OCD, they are usually clueless.

So, how can you explain OCD to those who don’t have it?

Throughout this article, we’re going to give you a detailed analysis on how to talk about OCD with others. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

The Seriousness of OCD

One of the biggest dilemmas with trying to explain your OCD to someone is, chances are, they won’t take it seriously. Unfortunately, overcoming this obstacle may prove to be the hardest, but also the most rewarding.

The difficulty with all mental conditions are people can’t physically see the problem. Unlike a broken bone or second-degree burn, the damage isn’t visible and, therefore, appears irrelevant.

If you struggle with OCD, you’re already well aware of how serious a condition it is. Now you have to find a way to explain the significance of this disorder.

To begin, it may help to offer some statistics to your listener about OCD. Here are just a few: ²

  • It’s estimated that at least 1.2% of the U.S. adult population struggles with OCD.
  • OCD is more prevalent among the female population (1.8%) than the male population (0.5%).
  • Out of the entire population with OCD, about half (50.6%) have had serious impairment.
  • Out of the entire population with OCD, 34.8% have moderate impairment while 14.6% have mild impairment.

When presented these statistics, the prevalence of OCD becomes optical. The bottom line is a lot of people struggle with it and plenty of that population lets this condition go untreated.

The Darker Side of OCD

More often than not, people see OCD as a simple organization and cleanliness problem. They may put off the seriousness of this disorder as you being nothing more than a perfectionist.

The problem is, most people don’t see the darker side of OCD. More importantly, they don’t realize that OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. ³

Through unwanted and disturbing thoughts, images or urges (obsessions), you begin to feel a large influx of anxiety or discomfort. In order to reduce these unsettling feelings, you engage in repetitive behaviors and/or mental acts (compulsions).

This description of how OCD works within the brain really reveals the true nature of this condition.

The Importance of Speaking Out

We understand that it can be difficult to talk to others about your OCD. However, it’s vital you refrain from keeping the condition a secret for a prolonged period of time.

According to the International OCD Foundation, a majority of those with the condition refrain from treatment between 14 and 17 years after the initial onset of symptoms.

Most of the time, people are simply embarrassed about their thoughts and behaviors. In many regards, they believe these traits are unique to them and, therefore, strange to come out and admit to those around them.

But as our statistics discussed above, these there are many out there who struggle with OCD. You are anything but alone in your battle.

It’s important to speak out about OCD because if you don’t, you run the risk of symptoms worsening over time. With the right treatment and support system, you have a much better chance at overcoming this condition.

Not to mention, untreated OCD can lead to other mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, depression, and other anxiety disorders. ⁴

Words From Those with OCD

Back in 2015, The Mighty put together a list of quotes from people who struggle with OCD first-hand. By sharing a few of these, we hope that you can get a sense of how others are able to define their OCD to others.

  • “OCD is like having a bully stuck inside your head and nobody else can see it.” – Krissy McDermott
  • It’s like being controlled by a puppeteer. Every time you try and just walk away, he pulls you back. Are you sure the stove is off and everything is unplugged? Back up we go. Are you sure your hands are clean as they can get? Back ya go. Are you sure the doors are securely locked? Back down we go. How many people have touched this object? Wash your hands again.” – Toni Neville
  • “A physical sensation crawls up my arm as I avoid compulsions. But if I complete it, the world resets itself for a moment like everything will be just fine. But only for a moment.” – Mardy M. Berlinger
  • “Imagine all your worst thoughts as a soundtrack running through your mind 24/7, day after day.” – Adam Walker Cleveland
  • It’s like you have two brains – a rational brain and an irrational brain. And they’re constantly fighting.” – Emilie Ford

Metaphors are a great way to develop a picture for those who don’t struggle with OCD. Being as this is a mental disease, it’s important to give the person you’re talking to a visualization as though it were a physical disease.

Final Word

Understandably, you may be in a position where it’s difficult to find someone you can trust enough to talk about your OCD. Luckily, there is help available.

While we highly suggest speaking to a physician or psychiatrist, you also have the option to reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 1 (800) 950-NAMI.

Your Questions

Still have questions about how to explain OCD to others?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

² Harvard Medical School: National Comorbidity Survey (NCS): Lifetime and 12 Months Prevalence Estimates from the NCS-R and NCS-A

³ Department of Health & Human Services (HHS): What are the five major types of anxiety disorders?

⁴ Beyond OCD: Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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