“I’m pretty OCD. I like to fine tune every detail.”
Tennessee Titans Quarterback Marcus Mariota used these words to describe his game preparation process to a reporter.
People with OCD don’t “like” feeling the way they do. It’s not a matter of preference or a personality quirk, it’s a disorder rooted in deep anxiety. There is evidence that even trained physicians don’t know enough about the disease. One study found half of all primary care physicians couldn’t correctly identify OCD symptoms. Another found mental health professionals misidentified OCD symptoms 38 percent of the time. It can take as many as 17 years from the onset of symptoms for a patient to finally receive effective treatment. These facts go underreported.
Actor and OCD Patient Advocate Ethan Smith is touring the country this week as part of OCD Awareness Week. Smith was incorrectly diagnosed many times in his life. When he was 14, he took his temperature 60 times a day because he feared being sick. Doctors put him on antidepressants. When he was a young adult, a doctor asked him if he had self-injurious thoughts, which led him to fear his own hands. He was misdiagnosed as psychotic. It wasn’t until he was 32, that he was actually diagnosed correctly and set on the path to recovery.
As journalists, authors and public relations professionals know, words matter. When used incorrectly, words can create and reinforce negative stereotypes that prevent mental health disorders like OCD from being taken seriously and keep funds from being devoted to researching effective treatments. But when OCD patients like Ethan Smith share their stories in the media, it gives clarity and courage to undiagnosed people with OCD who have been suffering in silence for far too long. Stories like his shouldn’t be saved for awareness weeks, the release of a study or when someone newsworthy uses the term. And most of all, OCD shouldn’t be a reduced to a self-deprecating comment or worse, a joke.