In the same way that the prevalence of eating disorders varies directly with the media-induced “ideal” of the perfect physical form, so too do the nature and focus of OCD obsessions and compulsions. Take for example the insatiable appetite for all things celebrity, developed, monitored and fed by the media. More specifically, the intensity of the media scrutiny of celebrity relationships which is distilled into print and TV into ‘expert comment’, on-topic articles, ‘real-life experiences’, surveys, questionnaires and media and public debate. Such interest appears to have fathered (sorry) a simultaneous ‘new’ subtype of OCD obsession involving intense scrutiny of one’s own intimate relationships. The person with OCD will become locked in attempting to problem solve various dilemmas such as: “Is this the right relationship for me?”, “Do I really love this person?”, “Is my partner faithful?”, “Could I be unfaithful to my partner?”. And before you think that this is the everyday stuff of supermarket checkout queues and teens on lunch break, you’re right, but not to the point where they might take every Tuesday off work to agonise about the question for 12 hours alone, in bed, writing notes, or track down a random stranger they can’t remember whether they kissed 15 years ago at a bar just before they got married. At the ocdcentre we have noticed a distinct upward trend in the number of young people (18-30 yr olds) seeking treatment for what we have come to call ‘relationship OCD’. We have no doubt that the proliferation of relationship experts, self-help books, magazines focused on the domestic dysfunctions of Angelina and Brad or Katie and Tom have contributed.
So, take this issue to your GP or Primary Care Physician and you’ll be hearing the phrase “that’s just part of being young!” echoing after you as you’re shown the door. Later you’ll go home and your friends, family and the lady at the bus stop who just love to talk about society’s version of current affairs will get heavily involved in your love life. And the slippery slope continues, day in, day out. Needless to say, many of these young people never make it to us for treatment or at best, show up later when their OCD morphs into something the neighbours concur is really obsessed (or wierd and not nearly as interesting to them).
Similarly, the paedophile, as the media’s latter day parallel of the serial killer has been the basis of many an OCD sufferer’s inner turmoil. Heavily linked to the sub-type of ‘responsibility OCD’, such a person with this type of OCD will fear that they might likewise harm or abuse children, so much so that they will avoid all contact with children and more seriously, consider suicide to protect potential victims. Locked at the basis of this psychophenomenon is incredibly low self worth (sometimes bullying) and the notion they might become the most abhorent member of society imaginable which is, of late, the tabloid paedophile. They are of course, nothing of the sort and I would sooner leave my children with such a sufferer than anyone else.
What is true for obsessions, is also true for compulsions. They have, in many ways, been shaped by culture, society and naturally, technology. Where technology is concerned, there is a clear divide. The avoidant sufferer will go to enormous lengths to escape the constant and conspicious deluge of information, shunning TV, mobiles (cells), the internet and even credit cards – much easier to do 10 years ago. In the other camp, the more compulsive sufferer’s peace of mind will be defined by the number of texts they receive/send and their accuracy (checked 20 times). Their anxiety levels will be assuaged by their access to reassurance from friends and family on their mobile phone and at least 20% of the global internet usage must be people with OCD researching health symptoms checklists, relationship surveys, local traffic accident reports, criminal and pathological traits and food additives.
Since compulsive behaviour is self-medication, OCD’s addictive idiosyncracies can be extrapolated to include Twitter, facebook, video games, TV, online gambling, online forums, discussion boards – it’s a long list. Then we have the shift from the people who re-write letters, words and whole sentences to those who have become super adept on the keyboard but still find that they are under performing at work because colleagues don’t have to redo the entire Excel spreadsheet because the 3rd row just didn’t feel right.
I’ll stop now as I could treat a dozen people in the time it will take me to cover 10% of this topic accurately, but I hope you get my drift. OCD has a nasty habit of staying current.
(next: Why there is a large-scale communal and societal tendency towards OCD)