2 February 2015

It's good to talk

My heart sank when I read the headline on the Daily Mail article my sister had sent me: 'Thanks OCD! You've been my saviour in the worst year of my life.' Was this going to be yet another misrepresentation of the condition?

It didn't help that the feature was accompanied by a large photograph of a woman wearing black lacy underwear and black stockings, prone on a fluffy carpet...

The woman was Michelle Mone, founder of the Ultimo lingerie brand, and the article was an interview that focussed on her experiences of the disorder.

In fact, the reporter was reasonably well informed and the piece included useful background information and advice.

I also felt some connection with Ms Mone, as our stories are very similar: we're both divorced, both have ordering compulsions, and were both only diagnosed with OCD in our 30s.

The way in which her compulsions had helped her to get through the stress of divorce was something I could also relate to. I wrote last year about how I took the conscious decision to give in to mine, in the face of a series of domestic and personal crises. Using compulsions as a form of anxiety relief, to manage an otherwise intolerable situation, was, at the time, the lesser of two evils. 

However, I shared the reporter's surprise at Ms Mone's pride in what she claimed to be the condition's positive aspects: 'Do I want to stop it? No, I can cope with a hell of a lot more in business because of OCD. I know where things are, I work faster, and I can take on a lot more.'

While there are elements of an obsessive-compulsive personality that may be constructive, such as being organised, this is entirely different from OCD, with its accompanying anxiety and distress.

The dividing lines can be blurry and it takes a professional diagnosis to clarify each individual's status, ie whether they have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) as well - which may well apply to Ms Mone. Lumping everything together under the umbrella of OCD, as she did, creates misunderstanding, giving the impression that sufferers enjoy what they do.

Her final comment really incensed me: 'OCD defines who I am as a person. I don't think it's an illness. I would say it's what makes me perform so well and makes me unique.'

Of course it's an illness, and one that prevents many sufferers from 'performing' at all - they may be unable to hold down a job, maintain a relationship, or even go out.

Unfortunately, not all high-profile publicity about mental health is good publicity, and, although this article ran more than a year ago, it's still available online.

Image courtesy of Time to Change
On Thursday 5 February, it's Time to Talk Day, which is part of the Time to Change campaign to eradicate mental health stigma and discrimination. This year, they're asking everyone to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health. I hope as many people as possible participate - every little helps to balance this kind of misleading coverage.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing that article, Helen. I agree that it gives some good information about OCD, but it doesn't describe this woman. What are her obsessions? It seems to me she has OCPD.
As you say, the proliferation of misinformation is a great reason to have conversations. We need to work so hard just to inform people correctly about OCD!

Helen Barbour said...

Hi ocdtalk, yes, she appears to have OCPD to me, too. She certainly enjoys many elements of her behaviour too much for it to be classed as OCD. Thanks for your comments.