The (Neat and Orderly) Ramblings of an Obsessive Compulsive: Stigma Shtigma

Recently somebody close to me was prescribed anti-depressants, yet she refuses to take them because she doesn’t want to be seen as, in her words, ‘mental’. This has made me even more determined to write this column. Somebody that I love very much needs help but won’t take it because there is still this stigma attached to mental health problems.

This is the way I look at it. My sister was diagnosed with type one diabetes when she was thirteen. When she was taken to hospital people weren’t asking her ‘What have you got to be diabetic about?’ So why do some people still think it’s acceptable to approach somebody who is clinically depressed and ask ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

According to the Mental Health Network, the percentage of people disagreeing with the statement “increased spending on mental health services is a waste of money” decreased from 89 per cent in 1994 to 82 per cent in 2011, which suggests that we are becoming less tolerant towards mental health problems in comparison to physical illnesses. But mental health problems are illnesses, full stop. People don’t choose to have anxiety disorders, depression, or schizophrenia (to name just a few). You wouldn’t take my sister’s insulin away and say ‘Suck it up, hun, you’re just going through a phase. Get over it’, so why is there still such a stigma attached to mental health problems? The Mental Health Network statistics show that in 2010, 57% of people believed that people with mental health problems should be kept in a psychiatric hospital, and in 2011, 43% of people said that they would feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about their mental health. I strongly believe that the huge, and often very generalised, umbrella of ‘mental health problems’ should be tackled; obviously the range of psychological problems that people can endure are all of differing severity and can vary greatly from person to person (the psychological term for this is ‘individual differences’, which means that each person will have differing economical, genetic and social circumstances which can affect the severity of an illness). Therefore, this huge label of ‘mental health problems’ is ridiculously unhelpful in understanding psychological illness because it is way too generalised and, as the above statistics seem to demonstrate, can lead people to assume that those with the dreaded ‘mental health issues’ should be institutionalised, which is not the case.

I actually don’t know where I would be today if I had not had the courage to go to my GP for a referral to a local therapist for help with my OCD. OCD is an anxiety disorder which causes the sufferer to carry out ‘compulsions’ which they think will prevent bad things from happening (as a very brief and generalised summary. Not every case is the same). A common belief about OCD is that sufferers just like to be ‘neat and tidy’. This does apply to a lot of people with OCD but the issues go much deeper than that, hence the ironic title of my column (what am I like?!) For more information on OCD I would recommend the website www.ocduk.org which is brilliant.

I know that my column can’t change the world. But if it gets just a few more people talking about not just OCD but mental health problems in general I’ll be happy. The aim with this column is not to laugh at people with OCD but to laugh at the illness itself. People don’t realise that OCD is a horrible, anxiety-inducing disorder and it made me miserable for four years until I finally accepted that I needed help. I probably would have asked for help sooner if I hadn’t believed that I would be locked up in an asylum if I told my GP about my worries. I want to turn that experience into something positive in the hope that it will help others to be more confident to talk about mental health issues in general (and have a bit of a giggle at the same time).

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