OCD – it’s the new celebrity mental health craze

A mental health disorder is the new must-have – every celebrity has one!
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Jane Bohun
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A mental health disorder is the new must-have – every celebrity has one!

 I've always felt quite uncomfortable when people casually drop mental health disorders into banter: "I'm a little bit OCD like that"; "Oops, I think I'm having a little bipolar moment!"; "Just waiting for the meds to kick in, hahahaaa!"

It's not just regular discomfort though, it's almost physical, like someone is scraping an iron file across my teeth, or I'm chewing wool - have you ever done that? Ugh, guaranteed to put your teeth on edge...

Anyway, the other reason casually mentioning mental health disorders leave me cold is because I am a nutter. A proper, signed-up, certified bonkers lady.

I've had three nervous breakdowns and while I've had a relative period of OK-ness over the last few years, I'm slowly realising that actually I haven't been OK at all. Instead I've been running away from the reality that I am falling apart again, filling all my time with work and unravelling, again.

But this isn't about me. No, really. My mum is also a nutjob. My overriding memory of her in my childhood is of her as a super-stressed, massively anxious, angry mum. When my nan died (her mum), she properly lost it. The morning after my nan died, she came downstairs totally and utterly consumed by severe and extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And that's the way she's been for the last 20-odd years.

What is OCD? Here's a short explanation from Medterms.com: A psychiatric disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, such as cleaning, checking, counting, or hoarding.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), one of the anxiety disorders, is a potentially disabling condition that can persist throughout a person's life. The individual who suffers from OCD becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are senseless and distressing but extremely difficult to overcome.

OCD occurs in a spectrum from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, can destroy a person's capacity to function at work, at school, or even in the home. And, in case you're wondering, no, her house is not spotless, quite the opposite.

There are a few rooms that you can’t open the door to because they’re full, floor to ceiling, of general stuff. The house is messy and dirty because she is too ill to clean and furthermore, the basis of her OCD is that we (my dad, sister and myself) are contaminated and that if she touches us or anything we have ever touched, (i.e. the house and everything in it), then this leads to extreme behaviour and anxiety. So post is never opened because it’s been through the letterbox, which has been touched by us and our post.

All of her friendships have died due to the OCD; her marriage to my dad has suffered beyond repair; they’ve lost their business as mum couldn’t do the books, or take the calls or go out to meetings. She has a separate car, which we’ve never been allowed to travel in; she has a separate washing machine and tumble dryer to stop us from contaminating her clothes.

Mum sits in a separate living room, washes her hands in bleach until they are red, raw and sore, and hugs are out of bounds because we’re dirty.

Mum has had a lot of psychiatric help. Several months in The Priory, and dad used up all his savings and health insurance on shrinks for her. But the reality is, if you don’t want to change then you won’t, and psychologists always told us that they couldn’t help mum because she didn’t want to do the theraputic work.

But, back to the reason I feel uncomfortable when people joke about mental health. I realise that usually the trend for common popular phrases: aw, bless; look at you!; how good is that?! etc, etc, come from popular culture, and often this is sourced from celebrity culture. And so it follows that mental health disorders are now 'popular' with celebrities too.

A few years ago everyone (sort of) was talking about autism. Celebs were popping out of the pages of magazines and newspapers to talk about their experience of kids with autism and their opinion on the MMR jab; thought, by some, to be a trigger for autism.

britney-spears-bipolar

Clearly things weren't great for Britney here - she was wearing that wig, and K-Fed was actually starting to look like a responsible parenting figure

Then, bipolar disorder was the celebrity mental affliction du jour. From Stephen Fry and Britney Spears to Kerry Katona, the stars were telling us about their own personal hell. Now OCD seems to be having a moment in the spotlight. Comedian Jon Richardson has recently made a short series for Channel 4 about whether he is “a little bit OCD”.

He meets a few of the one million sufferers in the UK to look at how destructive and debilitating OCD is, and muses on whereabouts he is on the scale of OCD. Other celebs have admitted to having OCD; even David Beckham has said he can't relax unless he has his Coke cans lined up in a particular way in his fridge.

cans-of-coke-ocd

An artist's reconstruction of David Beckham's fridge... 

Supporting this 'trend' for OCD there have been several TV programmes about extreme hoarders (a facet of OCD). Documenting the lives of people who keep everything from their child's first drawings to several-year's-old empty milk bottles.

Despite being clearly very mentally unwell, television attempts to cure these people with a handful of tidying-up experts and a telly-friendly shrink. And we sit on the sofa watching a mad person throw out their rubbish. Yep, that's entertainment, folks!

The trend for certain mental health disorders appearing in the media, and celebrities confessing to suffering from these disorders, always has the caveat that all this fuss and exposure is to bring greater awareness of mental health problems, and will lead some to realise they have issues and need to get help. Which of course, is probably true, and in which case, is a very Good Thing.

However, the nature of trends, whether they be jeans or (cognitive) genes, is that they fall in and out of fashion; people jump on bandwaggons to follow them; trends are cool and are distilled to make them more palatable.

My concern is that with the 'popularity' of mental health disorders - for want of a better word - we become complacent. Signs of being mentally unwell are trivialised and just a matter of 'being a little bit bipolar today'. I think that’s why banter about being mad leaves me cold.

What do you think? Am I being mental?