Stigma of Having OCD:
One question I have often wondered about is this: Why do those of us who suffer from mental conditions also have to deal with the stigma of having one? So many times during Ray’s OCD we were faced with the worry about how others would perceive Ray if they knew. Where else in the medical world does this happen? You get cancer; do others turn away or do they show up at your door bearing casseroles and offers of help? You get diabetes; do others commiserate with you or do they blame you for having the condition?
The few times we did mention Ray’s OCD, we regretted it almost immediately. I could barely get the words, “Ray has obsessive compulsive disorder,” out before I was bombarded with statements like, “I know all about that, I have a touch of OCD myself, or Doesn’t everyone have a little OCD?”
Why people think they know so much about a complicated disorder like OCD has always confounded me. And, of course, they also knew exactly what we needed to do about it. Several times, I was told that Ray’s OCD would get better if I just used more discipline, provided more structure in Ray’s life, or if I gave him more guidance. I just had to be stronger, better – in other words, I needed to be a better parent. What these others failed to realize what just how lucky they were. Their kids were healthy, but it had nothing to do with their parenting; they were nothing special. They were simply “good enough” parents.
The stigma that surrounds mental illnesses is still very strong. Those of us who have to deal with conditions like OCD know this and spend a lot of energy and effort hiding our symptoms and making sure that no one knows we have a problem. We know that the ignorance of others can hurt us. If they knew we had mental troubles, then they might just take away our jobs or take away their friendship and support. In our case, for example, I worried that Ray’s teachers would treat him differently or that the other students at Ray’s school would shun him. Even today when Ray’s OCD is no longer a major force in his life, we think about how stigma could hurt him. We wonder what some future employer will think when they learn that Ray has written a book about his OCD experience. Would they hesitate to hire him, think he might not be able to do the job, or worry that he might harm them in some way? It is also entirely possible that those considering Ray for a job or for admission into a professional school might not even be aware of their prejudices. They might just turn Ray down not even knowing that it was because of their own fear and ignorance.
In a perfect world, stigma wouldn’t exist. Those of who have mental illness wouldn’t have to deal with the ignorance of others but could find help and heal without worrying about their jobs, social structures, and futures. I’m convinced that if stigma didn’t exist than those who have mental conditions would heal much quicker and could quickly resume their rightful places as employees, students, parents, and friends.
But, until mental disorders assume their rightful place in the medical world as legitimate and understandable conditions, many of us who have them will limp along, tentatively looking for help, and fearing ourselves because others fear us. I worry that many, who could have been saved, might not make it – all because of stigma.