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Why Using the Term ‘OCD’ Correctly Matters

I check Google News for new stories about OCD pretty regularly. It’s interesting to see news about new treatments — such as the news that deep brain stimulation, a treatment generally used for tremor disorders like Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, can also be effective in treating therapy- and medication-resistant OCD.

But this story is part of why a few other headlines caught my eye. OCD is an incredibly serious, debilitating mental illness for most OCDers. Serious enough, in fact, that there are plenty of people who would welcome brain surgery to lessen or remove their OCD symptoms.

I scrolled down from two stories about this brain surgery treatment and saw the headlines “Above average cleanliness not indicator of OCD” and “Obsessively pursuing correct use of term OCD” … followed by this ridiculousness from GQ: “Hypnotic Video Demonstrates Most OCD Way to Fold Your Socks.”


Is it even a big deal for people to use the term “OCD” casually for neatness? Is it hurting anyone?

Well, yes. OCD can be truly debilitating, but when most people think OCD is just a few neat quirks, they may not understand how someone’s OCD can prevent them from getting to work on time or leaving the house at all, or cost hundreds in needless medical bills.

(True story, I once went to the doctor for a pimple on my back because I couldn’t see it, became convinced it was advanced melanoma, and began panicking at the thought of waiting a day or two until I saw my mom so she could look for me; I spent $60 for the doctor to tell me I had a pimple. Not to mention all of the time-wasting emails I’ve sent to my doctor asking whether I could get botulism cleaning out my fridge or whether moths carry rabies.)

What if people began using other chronic illnesses as adjectives the way they use “OCD” and “bipolar”? “I think I’ll skip the ice cream, I’m on a diet. I’m so diabetes!” “Look at my cute short haircut, isn’t it so cancer?”

People would never say those things, because they recognize diabetes and cancer as serious illnesses. In fact, even just writing that as an example makes me really uncomfortable, because I’ve had family members touched by serious physical chronic illnesses. They’re not a joke.

By turning mental illness into a joke, those of us who have them are simultaneously being told that our mental health issues are a joke and we should be able to deal with them ourselves, and if we can’t we’re over-dramatizing a trivial problem.

It increases stigma and discourages people with these problems from recognizing them (because the stereotypes are really very little like the actual symptoms) and from getting help (because they fear being laughed at, or that they have something much more serious than OCD because their symptoms go beyond scrubbing the sink twice a day).

So yes, how we use words can actually be pretty important, and it’s time for publishers like GQ to stop turning mental illness into a joke.

Photo by starathena

Why Using the Term ‘OCD’ Correctly Matters

Kyla Cathey

Kyla Cathey is a freelance writer from Galt, California who has been overcoming OCD for the past year, after struggling with it for much of her life.

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APA Reference
Cathey, K. (2016). Why Using the Term ‘OCD’ Correctly Matters. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2018, from


Last updated: 13 Mar 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Mar 2016
Published on All rights reserved.