Monday, May 10, 2010

Being Mentally Ill: On Stigma and Soundbites

A recent presentation, by Dr. Mairwen Jones at The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' Congress, notes that global warming fears were found in 28% of a sample of obsessive compulsive disorder patients. Yeah?

I'm wondering what the original purpose of Dr. Jones' study was? Headlines could also read:

Fear of Terrorists after 9/11 Found in Patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fear of Hurricanes Found in Patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fear of Going to Hell Found in Patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD latches onto anything, but often related to something important to the sufferer. The content of OCD fears is nothing less than the fears of humanity. Media often focuses on bad news, scary things, attention grabbers, and yes, that will show up in the content of OCD fears, but the scary stuff comes from many other sources as well in the classroom(private and public schools), in the family, on the street, and from the pulpit.

There are Christians who suffer from scrupulosity, a religious-moral form of OCD, and fear they are going to hell, no matter what their faith tells them. I've struggled with that. Global warming fears in OCD could be scrupulosity--the fear of causing harm to our world, and being a bad person.

Dr. Jones' study provided a tantalizing soundbite taken advantage of by Washington Examiner online opinion editor, David Freddoso, with a comment that psychologists are concerned that media coverage of global warming may cause people to go nuts literally.

Wesley J. Smith's Second Hand Smoke goes with Global Warming Hysteria: Scaring the Mentally Ill, and ends with a snarky,
Panic mongering, as we have seen, has thankfully not convinced the world to destroy economies and keep developing nations mired in low emissions destitution. But it has disturbed children and worried the mentally ill. Nice going.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this idea of being mentally ill, and as a member of that category, being subject to scaring. I have OCD, so that would make me mentally ill according to Smith, and I don't appreciate this community being used as an object lesson or illustration to make a point. It's patronizing and disrespectful of real human pain.

Many people with OCD hide it as much as possible(hence my anonymous blog), in part because the disorder seems to be mainly fodder for jokes. Many of the people I've met who have OCD are finding ways to function, in spite of the exhaustion that comes with trying to keep the fears at bay by performing actions meant to undo the fear.

I knew a young man who was concerned about the environment, and his OCD glommed onto this, demanding he know for certain that his recyclables were actually being recycled, so he kept a growing stack of bottles and papers in his house, paralyzed with fear that he'd be culpable for any misdirection. He knew that ultimately, this meant he wasn't recycling, he was hoarding, but the fear was too intense. Does this make him any crazier than the young woman, a faithful church member, who has an OCD fear that someone at her church will think she's a lesbian, and goes to great lengths to never be seen with female friends, and speaks with her hand over her mouth in case she says something blasphemous?

Many people with OCD never get treatment, in part because some therapists get fixated on the content of the fears, rather than on the mechanism by which OCD demands more and more ritualizing. Others never share their OCD fears with anyone because of shame or embarrassment or fear of ridicule.

1 comment:

  1. I would think that if you polled any group of Australian 20-somethings, more than 28% would say they had global warming fears. Weird.