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Trump's 'Joke' About Injecting Disinfectants Isn't Funny for People With OCD

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On Thursday night, President Trump mused during a press conference that medical professionals should consider the possibility of treating the coronavirus through injections of disinfectants. After wondering aloud about the possibility of using light to kill the virus, he said:

I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

Because ingesting any kind of disinfectant is extremely dangerous, Trump faced swift backlash for his comments. Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturers of Lysol, even issued a statement on the improper use of disinfectants.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the statement read. “As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.”

After receiving so much criticism, Trump later walked back his comments, claiming he was being “sarcastic.” Whether that is true or not, his unfounded and thoughtless suggestion is extremely harmful for so many reasons, and it is a particularly dangerous narrative for people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Many people with OCD experience contamination-based fears and rituals, usually revolving around germs and the possibility of contracting a disease or spreading one. Unfortunately, sometimes these rituals go as far as using cleaning supplies for non-recommended uses, such as to sanitize one’s face, body, clothing or bedding. 

In his book, “Turtles All the Way Down,” John Green writes about a character named Aza, who struggles with OCD. While in a moment of intense fear and anxiety, Aza drinks hand sanitizer. Aza believes, in that very emotional and vulnerable moment, that she could prevent any disease from entering her body and harming her by consuming hand sanitizer. Her mind convinces her this is the only way she can keep herself safe, despite the scientific evidence to support the contrary. Her experience represents some of the darkest and most dangerous moments of living with OCD.

Aza, myself and many other people experiencing contamination OCD have to put all of our energy and effort into reminding ourselves of the logic and the science: putting cleaning supplies directly into our bodies will not keep us safe from illness and disease. In fact, doing this could actually cause us to fall ill. OCD wants us to believe otherwise. But we fight every day against these urges.

So, what happens when a person in power suggests putting disinfectants directly into the human body to prevent disease?

It creates absolute chaos, to put it simply. We should be able to trust that the people in power will share information that represents logic and safety. We should be able to rely on others to protect us when our minds try to trick us and convince us otherwise.

We are all living in a constant state of fear and anxiety right now.  Our sympathetic nervous systems are activated almost constantly. We are more likely to respond to potential threats more impulsively and irrationally. To be very blunt — it is already so much harder for some people with contamination OCD to not drink hand sanitizer or wipe ourselves down with Lysol right now.

Trump’s recent comments on the topic are wrong for many, many reasons. But for those of us struggling with OCD, it’s a new battle in a war we have been fighting for years.

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Header image via C-SPAN 2

Originally published: April 27, 2020
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