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Please, Don't Take That 'OCD Radar' Test You Might See in Your Newsfeed

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I wasn’t going to write about this topic today, but alas, we are interrupting the regularly scheduled programming for this special announcement:

Do not take that OCD test going around Facebook.

Why? Because it is an eye test, not an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) test. Do you want a real test for obsessive-compulsive disorder? Well, here you go.

Sorry, maybe I’m coming on a little strong. Maybe you are saying, “Oh, it’s just for fun, don’t worry about it so much.” But I think the time has come that those of us with mental health problems — problems that are diagnosed and debilitating and require professional help — stand up for ourselves. It’s because of things like that ridiculous quiz (which does not actually test for OCD but rather tests if you can tell which shape is moved a few pixels off or is a slightly different color than the others) that people with OCD or other mental health problems might be afraid to be open. Afraid to get help. Embarrassed to admit to themselves or others that they have a real problem. Ashamed of their issues because they believe people will just laugh it off or say, “Oh, me too! I’m so OCD (or depressed or whatnot)!”

Stop. Just stop.

I shouldn’t have to go to church and hear people talking about how they took that test and “are so OCD, but they already knew that” as they are arranging something on a table and want to make it look perfect. I shouldn’t have to sit there and breathe deeply when the teacher is trying to close a box and says something to the class like, “Oh, I have to close it just right because of my OCD.”

Really? Is your mind blaring obsessive thoughts at you that someone you love will die if you don’t close the box like that? Will you have to check and double check after you close the box to make sure it’s perfect? Will you worry about it the rest of the day and think that something terrible will happen if you somehow didn’t close the box perfectly? Because maybe then I would take you seriously when you say you “have OCD.”

When you comment on someone’s Facebook status or on that quiz that you are OCD and you already knew that because you like to keep your house organized or something, you may not be intending any offense. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t causing it. That doesn’t mean you aren’t making one of your friends who actually has obsessive-compulsive disorder feel pain, shame, anger, or sadness.

Increase your vocabulary.

Please stop using the names of actual mental illnesses to describe personality traits, quirks, or habits you have. If you like things to be organized, say “I’m super organized.” If you are really particular about how things are arranged, say “I’m really particular and like things to be a certain way.” If you are sad one day because something rough happened, say “I’m feeling down today.” If you are scared to give a presentation or talk, say “Man, I’m pretty nervous.” Please don’t say “I’m so OCD,”  “I am totally depressed today,” or “I have such bad anxiety!”

Here’s why it matters.

It might not seem like a big deal to you (or to the majority of the population), and that is exactly the problem. Our society is so accustomed to the use of these phrases as off-hand comments, adjectives, or even jokes. And because of this, people who actually do live with those mental illnesses can feel like they can’t be open about them. We often feel stigmatized before even announcing that we have a mental health problem. We can feel as though even if we did try to tell people about it, they might not understand because of the way our culture has trash-talked and trivialized very real, terrifying and extreme problems.

But it is not a joke. It is not funny to have hours of your day taken over with obsessive thoughts that something terrible will happen if you don’t wash your hands one more time, check the front door, use that hand sanitizer, or turn off the light seven times in a row. It’s not a silly personality quirk to have bleeding hands from the compulsion to wash your hands over and over, or to be an hour late for work because you had to go back to your house to check something again and again. It’s not a silly habit to not be able to sleep at night because you have to keep going back to the bathroom because you are worried you will have an accident in your bed if you don’t. It’s not something you should trivialize if you pray you will die in your sleep because it would be easier than living with the obsessive thoughts and compulsions that plague your mind every waking second (and even sometimes in your dreams).

Am I making sense?

So please stop taking that “OCD” test. And please don’t say you have OCD unless you actually do have obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s not a personality trait. It’s not something you should joke about. It’s real, and you never know who around you actually lives with it. It could be your friend, your neighbor, even your child or parent. Many of us have gotten really good at hiding it because it can feel like that’s what we have to do in order to survive. That’s not how we should have to live, though. Please stop perpetuating stigmas. It is a big deal, and it does matter.

Follow this journey on the OCD Mormon.

Originally published: September 19, 2016
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