April 27, 2011

Mental Health & OCD Rant

I am so tired of the shame and stigma that goes along with having a mental health problem.  As I said in a previous post titled “Are you out of the OCD Closet”, there are very few people in my life who know that I have OCD, even though it is a large part of my life and who I am as a person.  I suppose I’m not doing a lot to further the mental health movement, but I am trying to change that – for myself, and for others who have OCD. 

Recently I have been paying attention to the types of “special interest” groups that receive attention from media and our society.  Drug addiction is one example.  I watched a show that profiled a couple who became addicted to heroin, and then their children became addicted too.  These people were portrayed as victims, who needed help and it was society’s responsibility to provide help to them.  The show also interviewed a heroin addict who talked about attempting to give up drugs.  He said the hardest part is the first week of detox – the anxiety, and sweats etc.   I couldn’t help but think of what it’s like to endure ERP – the anxiety, constant ruminating, discomfort and at times inability to function.  But ERP typically lasts months.  It started me thinking that there is probably more money (time, media attention etc) invested in drug addiction in Canada and the US, than in chronic mental health problems like OCD.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t have compassion for people who struggle with drug addiction.  I realize there are often other issues (most likely mental health issues!) contributing to someone choosing to take drugs.   But something like drug addiction is openly discussed in society and receives a lot of compassion and attention.  People with mental health issues are still told to “smarten up” and move on. 

Another example is something like cancer.  Cancer is such a common disease, most people have either dealt with it themselves, or they know a close friend or family member who has had to deal with it.  If you read my blog, you know that my mother is currently battling stage four colon cancer.  It’s horrible.  The amount of money that id donated towards treatment and efforts towards finding a cure are staggering.  Why is that?  My guess would be that one of the reasons is that there is no stigma associated with having cancer.  People with cancer receive support and sympathy – exactly what they should receive.  But why isn’t it the same for people with serious mental health issues? 

In my opinion, Hollywood does nothing to help remove the stigma of mental health problems.  I just finished watching a recent episode of Oprah with Michael Douglas as a guest.  For those of you who aren’t aware – his wife – Katherine Zeta Jones recently checked herself into a treatment facility for Bi Polar II.  When Oprah asked Michael Douglas if he knew that she had this condition, Michael replied “no”.  Interesting.  Then Oprah asked “How is she doing now?”  To which Michael replied something about how great she is doing and that she is in the process of making a movie somewhere in another state.  Really?  Is it really that easy after suddenly being diagnosed with a mental health problem to just check into a treatment facility, and walk out a few weeks later “all better”?  After watching Oprah, I started ranting to my friend.  Her reply was that it was too bad that Katherine Zeta-Jones was “outed” about her Bi Polar II by the media.  Hmmmmm......Michael Douglas has cancer, and the whole world knows.  They send him support and prayers etc.  He has no shame in sharing that information.  Katherine Zeta-Jones has Bi Polar II and she wants to handle her problem “privately”.  That indicates some level of shame if you ask me.    

Sorry – I just had to rant.  I’m finished now.  What does everyone else think? 

P.S.  One day later - after I wrote this post and went to bed all I could obsess about was whether or not I was going to offend anyone with my post.  And "Did I say anything wrong?"  Sheesh!!!


  1. I can relate as I have spent A LOT of time thinking about it myself. "Physical" and "mental" illness do seem to be treated differently in general because one is usually viewed as less avoidable than the other. If you're struggling mentally, it often seems like there's a "life is hard, get over it" kind of attitude, whereas illnesses that are viewed as being primarily physical tend to place less blame, if any, on the person who is sick. I struggle with this, because I often feel like I am bringing my illness upon myself, that if I just stopped insisting on performing my irrational behaviors, I would be fine. The thing is, it's so hard to, and probably impossible, to sort out mental v. physical. What can we change and what is hard-wired in biology? I think the more we learn about mental illnesses, the more we'll probably find that biological deficiencies, abnormalities, or other physical problems are the cause of "mental" illness, and that, just like with other diseases, it takes more than "having the right attitude" or "trying hard enough" to get better.

  2. Another OCD suffererApril 30, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    I agree with both your post and the above comment. When I was diagnosed with OCD about 15 years ago, my father thought it was something I could control thus he somewhat refused to accept what I was going through. Needless to say, I felt like somewhat of a leper going through school with OCD. People who don't have it don't understand how alienating it can feel. I don't need someone to feel pity for me but someone who can see me as normal even though OCD can seem debilitating at times.

  3. Fellow - I totally agree. I think a lot of our personality is genetically determined. Then of course there is the learned stuff intertwined in there. But that "snap out of it' attitude just drives me crazy. I am trying to gain the courage to be more of an advocate for mental health issues - at least by being more open myself. I think that would help to take some of the "shame" away.
    Another - I'm in the same boat as you. Though my parents are somewhat supportive - we don't even discuss my OCD. VERY RARELY. So silly. It's something that is completely avoided.

  4. hello! i just came across your blog...as i have been learning to deal with my own OCD issues for about 6 months now (although I know I've had OCD for 10 + years...i'm 31)...i basically just have "pure o" where it's the obsessive thoughts that I deal with all. day. long. it's exhausting.

    And I totally agree with the "shame" that comes around having a "brain defect" as I am learning to accept - i truly have an imbalance in the muscle which is my brain - but what is the difference of having something literally wrong with one's brain and having some other disease that is more widely "accepted"?...(and I mean that as in not looked down upon)

    Only a handful of people in my life know I deal with my OCD issues. My husband, my mom and my best friend. I don't deny it and make jokes out of it...but if my friends and co-workers really knew what thoughts went through my brain all day long...yeah i don't even want to think about what they'd say.

    I am seeing a therapist - and I am also the kind that when I want to know more about something - such as my OCD - I "obsess" over it to make sure that I understand it fully...so I have read self-help books and internet sites to figure out what my issues really are. :p

    but again, while my parents and my husband KNOW I have OCD - and they are SUPPORTIVE...we also don't discuss it like ever. although I did open up to my husband about some of it tonight... :)

  5. Annie - welcome to the OCD blog group! We're a very supportive group. :o) I completely agree that very few of us actually share our thoughts. I hope you are seeing a therapist that specializes in OCD treatment. Good luck and I look forward to hearing more from you!

  6. I completely agree with all the comments here. I've had OCD my whole life (started about 6 years of age)- now 31. Didn't get diagnosed until age 21. Mainly pure 'o'.

    My family never talks about it. If I bring it up around close family friends (to raise awareness) my Mum flatly denies it as she is ashamed !! After intial diagnosis I tried to talk to my Dad about it, with the response 'stop this rubiish your upsetting your Mum'. Talk about a shot to your self-esteem.

    I also brought it up at work, as I was struggling and looking for some support. The manager involved just ignored me and basically said get on with it. Which lead to increased stress/symptoms and effectively a complete breakdown (after 4 years in the job).

    In many cases the stigma is nearly worse than the disease!

    Tim - all the way from Australia (home of 450,000 OCD sufferer's!)

  7. Tim - I completely understand and I"m glad that you found my blog! I hope you will continue to read. My parents don't really talk about it either.