top of page


Updated: May 12, 2022

Take a step towards bettering your mental wellbeing because you deserve it!The term OCD is often misused in Pop culture. Even after widespread use of the term in the English language, OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder, continues to be stigmatised as a health condition. Somewhere along the way, it not only became an adjective, but also a rather cool quirk people use in day-to-day language. This continues to make OCD misunderstood and disregarded everytime the word is misused and left unchallenged. Alongside it can also trivialise and add to the misconceptions and stigmatise those suffering.

Very often you may have heard someone use the word inappropriately like- “Oh, she is always so organised, she must have OCD ”, “I like everything clean- I must have OCD”.....

So what is OCD?

An Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a neuropsychiatric disorder that includes recurrent distressing thoughts and repetitive behaviours or mental rituals performed to reduce anxiety. It includes symptoms that are often accompanied by feelings of shame and secrecy. Additionally, health care professionals may not always recognize the diverse manifestations of OCD, leading to a long delay in identifying the diagnosis.

OCD will almost always involve these four parts namely- intrusive thoughts (obsessions) leading to anxiety, compulsions (internal or external, including seeking reassurance or avoidance of certain people, places or objects) leading to temporary relief from the anxiety, that may only last for minutes until the next intrusive thought (obsession) occurs.

To some extent, people might experience OCD-like symptoms at one point or another, especially when under stress. However, OCD can have a totally damaging influence on a person’s life- ranging from education to work, career achievements to one’s social and interpersonal relationships.

The key deviation that sets apart little quirks, often referred to by people as being ‘a little OCD’, from the actual disorder is when the worry and unwanted experience of obsessions and compulsions start impacting an individual's everyday functioning and efficiency- which is a primary component in the clinical diagnosis of Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder. A clinician may diagnose OCD if one's symptoms are present for more than a hour each and every day.

According the the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)- an individual needs to fall in the below criteria to qualify for a diagnosis-

A. Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both: Obsessions are defined by (1) and (2): 1. Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress. 2. The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralise them with some other thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).Compulsions are defined by (1) and (2): 1. Repetitive behaviours (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. 2. The behaviours or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviours or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralise or prevent, or are clearly excessive. B. These obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming (e.g., take more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning of the individual.C. The obsessive-compulsive symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition. D. The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of any other mental disorder like anxiety disorder, eating disorder, etc. Additionally there are a few disorders that are also closely related to OCD, Body dysmorphic disorder- In this, individuals are observed to have a preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance that leads to repetitive behaviours or mental acts in response to those concerns like seeking help from cosmetic surgeons or dermatologists to address perceived defects. Excoriation (skin-picking disorder)- recurrent skin picking and repetitive attempts to stop or decrease skin picking. Hoarding disorder- In this, individuals have persistent difficulty discarding or parting their possessions because of strong urges to save items and/or distress with discarding items. They may also accumulate possessions to a degree that the space where possessions accumulated cannot be used as intended. Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder)- Individuals with this diagnosis engage in recurrent pulling of hair from any part of the body resulting in hair loss. What is not OCD? And how can we use sensitive language while referring to OCD? In recent times, our understanding and public awareness about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has increased, so has the use of the term ‘OCD’ as a description for some variety of actions that are not related in any way to the original condition. Thus, when people use the terms ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’ inappropriately, it leads to misbelief about OCD and can compromise the true suffering that the disorder can bring. As the internet and social media have become more broadly used, there has been a surging trend for people to refer to themselves as being a ‘OCD’. However, these obsessive or compulsive whims, that last a short moment and rarely cause distress or anxiety do not guarantee the label or a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which can actually leave a person impairing for hours at a time. Many times, people today try to label every unusual behaviour, but when they define unusual ‘obsessive’ or ‘compulsive’ behaviour as ‘OCD’ they are either unaware or not understanding what it actually is. For example, being obsessed about football, shopping, sex or other amusing pastimes is different from OCD, where a person takes no enjoyment and the obsessions focus on the mundane. OCD is also not about collectors who have keen interest in an area, such as collecting stamps, coins, books, antiques or movie mementos. These people who we can refer to as Collectors attain pleasure from the hunt and possession of the items they are interested in, and are contended to show off their collections to others. On the contrary, hoarders with OCD are far from happy or proud, they are also seen to hoard and collect worthless, seemingly junk objects followed by the feeling of distress and fear related to discarding them. Additionally people referred to as stalkers or obsessed fans may also be a far cry from OCD. Sometimes even compulsive behaviours like shopping and gambling which are addictive concerns are interchangeably put under OCD. Conclusion It is important to thus understand that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder presents itself in many disguises, and undeniably goes way beyond the common insight that OCD is merely a little hand washing, checking light switches or door knobs or having gleaming houses. Despite the severity of OCD, some people fail to take into account the fact that the ‘d’ in OCD means disorder making it essential for everyone to take conscious efforts in observing their everyday language around OCD. REFERENCES Diagnosing OCD. OCDUK. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2022, from Fenske, J. N., & Petersen, K. (2015, November 15). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Diagnosis and management. American Family Physician. Retrieved from

Written By - Taehreem (Psychotherapist at The Mood Space)

Book your first session today, take a step towards better mental health.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page