In case you’ve been living on Mars for a few years (in which case, I hope I can rent out your place), Monk is that TV series often presented with the tagline “Obsessive.  Compulsive.  Detective.”  It’s about a police officer with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder which was aggravated when his wife was murdered.  It’s won many awards and has a decent fan base.

 

 

One might think that a series bringing obsessive-compulsive disorder to light would be seen as a step forward as far as mental health is concerned.  In this case, the opinions are mixed.  Monk’s OCD is compounded by a large number of severe phobias.  But often, the thought process associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder is what allows him to succeed where others have failed!  That’s good!  Right?  …..right?

 

Maybe not.

 

 

It’s true; Tony Shalhoub admits that the show employs dramatic license in portraying the character.  Many health professionals themselves believe the show does people a great service in helping to make obsessive-compulsive disorder better understood.  Unfortunately, that “understanding” is a double-edged sword.  Yes, many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder can use that thought process to their advantage.  Yes, Monk does show some of the pain and anxiety associated with the illness.

 

Unfortunately, it also led to a lot more people deciding that obsessive-compulsive disorder was a “quirky” thing.  I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say “I’m a little OCD” at some point, usually when referring to their desire to organize shirts by color or make sure all the dishes are put away correctly.  This sort of usage of the term just leads to more confusion about what obsessive-compulsive disorder actually is and is often hurtful to those who do actually suffer from it – many sufferers feel that their struggles are trivialized by this sort of terminology. 

 

People with OCD carry a great burden of shame on their shoulders, partly because they realize that their ritualistic behavior makes no sense, so it can be hard for them to admit to those around them that they suffer in this fashion.  Now, if someone has finally worked up the courage to tell a close friend that he or she has OCD, it is extremely likely that the friend will shrug it off and say, “Oh, I’m a little OCD.”  The friend might think he or she is being understanding, but it’s actually very frustrating to receive that kind of response. 

 

Imagine if you were for some reason extremely ashamed of being diabetic, and you decided to share that information with someone you trusted.  Now imagine that person shrugging the news off or maybe laughing a little and saying, “I’m a little diabetic.  Sometimes my blood sugar goes wonky if I don’t eat on time, and it makes me cranky.”

 

Maybe not the best analogy, but the first one that comes to mind.

 

So yes, increased awareness about obsessive-compulsive disorder is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the way it is presented in the media often doesn’t take into account how it is actually being received by the public.  It’s not a fun, quirky thing.  It’s also not always an extremely debilitating thing as it is often represented on A&E’s series “Obsessed.”  Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder struggle every day but do lead productive and often exceptional lives.  It doesn’t make living with the disorder itself all that much easier, though.

 

Actually, one fairly accurate portrayal of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder can be found in “The Aviator.”  I’m not generally a huge Leo fan, but Mr. DiCaprio did his homework on that one.

 

I suppose my point in all of this is simple:  awareness is good.  But that awareness needs to come along with good, hard facts about the disorder.  Most people don’t realize how offensive it is to say “I’m a little OCD” because you need to make sure your underwear is folded.  You wouldn’t go around claiming to have a little diabetes without actually finding something out about it beyond how it was portrayed in some television show or movie that you watched, would you?  Obsessive-compulsive disorder deserves and absolutely requires the same consideration.

 

 In case you’d like to read more about it right this very second, I offer the following links:

 

National Institute of Mental Health

 

Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation

 

A Child’s Guide to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder