Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: On-Screen and Off

If you’ve ever watched the show “Monk” starring Tony Shalhoub, you know it’s about a detective who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The seven-year-old series was created by David Hoberman, who struggled with OCD as a teenager. According to a poll taken by the Obsessive Compulsion Foundation, people with OCD don’t mind the emphasis on their disease. In fact, OCD sufferer Patricia Perkins told HealthyPlace.com, “That’s my kind of humor.”

Co-executive producer Fern Field told Palm Springs’ Desert Sun that Shalhoub actually spent a few days with a doctor whose specialty is treating patients with OCD. “The doctor said within a couple of hours he thought he had a new patient because Tony was so good at it,” she said.

She also explained, “‘Monk’ was never a show about someone with OCD who happened to be a detective. It’s about a detective who happens to have OCD. I’ve done a lot of work with the disability community and that’s always been very, very important. Your disability is not who you are. Your disability is something you just happen to have. And, as we get older, we’re all going to have some kind of disability.”

Now another television series is concentrating on OCD cases. A&E’s “Obsessed” is a reality show that documents the treatment of people with anxiety disorders, including OCD, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and hoarding.

The Obsessive Compulsion Foundation says OCD affects one in 50 adults in the United States, and that twice that many have had it at some point in their lives. “Obsessed” says that anxiety disorders are “the world’s most common mental illness.” But John Tsilimparis, a marriage and family therapist who runs and outpatient program in cognitive behavioral therapy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, said it’s only been taken seriously as a medical issue for about 20 years.

Tsilimparis said it’s similar to how alcoholism was considered a joke when Otis the drunk was featured on the Andy Griffith show in the 1960s. “Addiction and OCD have similar qualities,” he told the Desert Sun. “Otis drinks or somebody does drugs for the same reason somebody overcleans. Most people with OCD will say, ‘I know what I do is unreasonable, I know what I do seems crazy, but I can’t stop doing it.’ The addict who’s a chronic relapser does the same thing.

“It might be a joke to somebody who has no experience with it. You might say, ‘God, just stop cleaning.’ Well, if it was that easy for them, they would have done it a long time ago,” he said.

“Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that’s comprised of obsession as well as compulsion,” Tsilimparis said. “They’re time consuming, they’re distracting, and they have to interfere with normal daily living routines. In other words, the difference between somebody with OCD and somebody who just suffers from regular anxiety is they spend a lot of time dealing with these compulsions.”

He continued, “The difference between obsessions and compulsions are, obsessions are basically these persistent impulses—these ideas, images, lists of thoughts—that are often very, very disturbing and anxiety provoking. The compulsions are these repetitive physical acts that are performed in response to the obsession in hopes of mitigating anxiety. You have to have both of those components to distinguish somebody who has free-floating anxiety (from) OCD.”

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