6 October 2014

Freak show

Many a time when I've told someone I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, their response has been 'Oh, have you seen Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners?' The answer is yes, unfortunately, I have.

This Channel 4 television programme, which begins its third series tomorrow night, both misrepresents OCD and takes advantage of sufferers. For those who aren't familiar with the show, it goes something like this...

Image courtesy of Nathan Greenwood/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
First, present a selection of people who clean obsessively, many of whom have been formally diagnosed with OCD, and invite viewers to gasp in amazement at their extreme behaviours.

Next, present a selection of people who live in a mess of belongings and dirt, many of whom appear to be hoarders, and invite viewers to gasp in horror at their disgusting surroundings. 

Finally, take one cleaner to the home of one messy person, ask them to restore order, and watch as mutual mental distress ensues.

The show encourages viewers to ridicule the cleaner's habits and yet also side with them and share in their revulsion at what they face: the implication is that, in this battle of wills, their way is the right way.

Ironically, as hoarding is commonly viewed as a form of OCD, the programme is simply pitting one kind of sufferer against another, in a scenario no better than a fairground freak show. Neither is actually 'right' and both need help.

I have rarely seen an episode where either party acknowledges that they need to change their behaviour and I have never seen one that reveals the distress the condition can cause. Admittedly, I haven't watched them all: I couldn't bring myself to.

The programme also feeds into the misconception that OCD is only about cleaning and little mention is made of treatment options. Some participants are, in fact, already under medical supervision, and a few have gone on to seek help. That doesn't take away from the fact that the set-up is designed purely to provide entertainment, rather than enlightenment, either to those taking part or viewers.

The show is so misleading that some people have phoned one of the national OCD charities, asking to be put in touch with sufferers, to get help cleaning their own homes!

Many experts in the field, including the very highly regarded Professor Paul Salkovskis, have spoken out against the programme and refused invitations to assist in its production.

Image courtesy of Ambro/
The shame of it is, Channel 4 has produced some excellent mental health documentaries, including The House of Obsessive Compulsives, which Professor Salkovskis appeared in. They are now tarnishing this good work with Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners: entertainment at the expense of those with mental health issues.

If you have access to Channel 4, whether on screen or online, I would urge you not to tune in. Both this channel and the production company involved (Betty) have ignored the voices of OCD professionals and sufferers; perhaps only viewer power will finally get this programme taken off air.


Lindsay said...

I haven't seen this and most certainly will avoid it. I hate these types of programmes - anything called a reality show seems to be as far removed from reality as possible, providing instead, a sensationalist and biased view.

Just for the record, I avoid anything with the word 'celebrity' in its title too.

ocdtalk said...

Sounds horrible, Helen! I agree, the

best thing everyone can do is NOT watch the show.

Helen Barbour said...

Lindsay, thanks for your comment - the show certainly errs on the side of sensationalist!

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk - I am keeping fingers crossed that this concept doesn't cross the Atlantic to US shores...

ocdsuffereruk said...

Well written.
I've never seen an episode of obsessive compulsive cleaners actually show the anxiety and associated issues such as distress.
Channel 4 signed the pledge to educate and eliminate stigma associated with mental illness and yet continues to commission new series.
This show is basically how clean is your house vs hoarders.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdsuffereruk, thanks for your feedback - I completely agree with your description of the show.