In an interview to promote her new book, JK Rowling has revealed that one of the main characters has obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was based, she explained, on her own experience of the illness, which revolved around “checking, double checking, triple checking things”. Hearing OCD talked about in a serious way, by a woman who obviously understands it well, comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s a very different description of the illness from the one the actor Julianne Moore gave four years ago when she said: “Those are the indulgences you can have before you have children. Now I don’t have time to obsess. All that stuff about, ‘I need to go this certain way and do that’ was an indulgence of my youth.”
OCD is a relatively new term, but the illness has been described accurately as far back as the 17th century. It is also a common anxiety disorder – the Royal College of Psychiatrists says that one person in every 50 will suffer from some form of it in their lifetime, but the serious aspects of it are little understood by the general public. Stories about OCD in the media often mistakenly interpret a superstitious nature, or an obsessive tendency for order, as the definitive signs of OCD. How often do you hear a friend refer to themselves as “a little bit OCD”, when really all they mean is that they like to colour co-ordinate their sock drawer?
It’s frustrating to hear interviews with people who discuss OCD as though it were a minor quirk, rather than an all-encompassing pit of worry (an example of this is a story about David Beckham needing to line up all the drinks cans in his fridge). While you may read about neat drawers pretty often, there is very little mention of the terrible thoughts that people with OCD grapple with. The executive director of the International OCD Foundation, Jeff Szymanski, says that the term OCD is often used erroneously: “What you have seen in the media and pop culture is a rise in people misusing the term OCD. What they really mean is they are obsessive or compulsive. But they don’t qualify for an anxiety disorder, which is what OCD is.”
See on www.guardian.co.uk