To most of us, we use the term “OCD” very lightly in Singapore – we joke about it, we laugh it off people’s phobia of being dirty and we label just about any other people’s tendency of double checking and overly liking cleanliness as “OCD”. However, little do we know that we making fun of people who really have OCD, since we are mimicking people who have some form of mental illness.
“OCD” stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a mental disorder characterised by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts (obsessive) that occur over and over in the mind and repetitive, ritualized behaviours (compulsive) that sufferers feel compelled to perform to reduce the anxiety felt due to the obsession.
People who suffer from OCD usually fall into one of these few categories: washers who are afraid of contamination, checkers who repeatedly check things, doubters who are worry if things aren’t done perfectly, counters and arrangers who are obsessed with order and symmetry, and hoarders who fear something bad may happen if they threw things away.
Common symptoms, among many, include the fear of being contaminated by germs, fear of losing or not having things that might be needed, having the idea that everything must line up “just right”, excessive double-checking of things and accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers.
Singapore is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder capital of the world. Higher rates of the illness are being reported here as compared to the United States or Europe. OCD was ranked as one of the top 3 most common mental-health disorders in Singapore, with both adults and children and teenagers alike having the condition. Yet, it was found that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder had a poorer recognition as compared to alcohol abuse, dementia and depression (since the condition often goes undiagnosed). There was also considerable personal stigma towards the mental illness, the common perceptions being that the problem is a “sign of personal weakness”, that those with mental health issues could get better “if they wanted to”, and people with such disorders are “unpredictable”.
Actually, many famous people and celebrities too suffer from OCD. Some of the famous ones who reveal their symptoms include Hollywood star Cameron Diaz who prefers to open doors with her elbows instead of using doorknobs; soccer player David Beckham who will re-arrange hotel furniture if it is not to his liking and infamous American president Donald Trump who is afraid of shaking hands with people, teachers in particular (He claims that teachers have 17,000 germs per square inch on their desks as justification for this behaviour.). These people might have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but they didn’t let it stop them from getting in the way of their careers and from being successful. I feel that this is commendable, since OCD happens on impulse, and it can be burdensome and exhausting at times.
Though we may not be able to do anything large-scaled to improve the situation of people with OCD, I feel that we can start by doing simple acts such as not poking fun at people who have OCD, and not having any social stigma against people with mental illnesses in general. I think that we should also be -more encouraging towards them, instead of shying away or holding grudges towards them – it may be imposing on us, but it is far more frustrating on them, hence I feel that we should have more empathy and try to help them be more inclusive and integrated into our society.
Germaine Lee (4T)