Talking openly about mental health is a struggle for many. A lot of the time, feelings of embarrassment and shame come with mental health disorders, and for a lot of people, mental health is still a taboo topic. This adds an extra challenge for those struggling with mental health to openly discuss their experiences with those around them. They may fear being judged, shut down, misunderstood or even abandoned.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in particular seems to be a misunderstood disorder. Many people will make comments about their ‘OCD tendencies’, which inadvertently reduces the disorder to a simple, not-so-serious issue. In reality, OCD is an incredibly challenging and difficult disorder to overcome that can result in sufferers being paralysed by their symptoms, unable to function normally in their daily lives. So how can you support someone experiencing OCD?
It starts with these four steps: Research, Eliminate expectations, Practice empathy, and Put aside your biases.
Have a read, and check back next week for more practical tips on how to talk to someone about their mental health experiences.
Do some research
What is OCD? Are you clear in your mind that you understand as much as you can about what your loved one may be experiencing in terms of symptoms, and what they may be facing when it comes to treatment? If not, take some time to do a bit more research before engaging in a conversation about their OCD. It will help you to understand what your loved one may be experiencing, but it will also help your loved one to feel heard and understood.
Here’s a brief breakdown of what OCD is and what some symptoms are.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to have certain thoughts repeatedly (these are called obsessions) and/or causes sufferers to feel the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (called compulsions).
Typically, someone suffering from OCD will experience the following:
- They have an intrusive thought called an obsession
which gives them anxiety.
- This causes them to do a behaviour (compulsion) that
brings them temporary relief from their anxiety
People with OCD experience a variety of triggers and behaviours. These triggers and behaviours can be very different from one person to the next. Some people with OCD may ritualistically turn a light switch on and off multiple times to ease their anxiety, while another OCD sufferer may wholeheartedly believe that a loved one is going to be harmed by either themself or someone else.
There are four categories that most OCD symptoms and behaviours fall into:
- Checking: Repeatedly checking tasks that have already been completed.
- Contamination: Cleaning obsessively through fear of being unclean or contaminated.
- Symmetry and Ordering: Needing things to be ordered and/or symmetrical. Anxiety peaks when things are unorganised or without order.
- Ruminations and Intrusive Thoughts: Obsessing over a particular thought, sometimes violent thoughts.
Maybe you are aware of the type of OCD your loved one struggles with. If this is the case, it might be worth researching the type of OCD triggers and behaviours in a bit more depth, so that you can engage in a productive conversation that stems from a place of deep understanding and empathy.
Eliminate all expectations
When people share their struggles and experiences with us, we tend to feel good about offering advice and making suggestions. When it comes to mental health, however, seeking professional help and treatment typically doesn’t happen after a few people around us suggest it. That decision needs to come from the person struggling.
In order to heal from mental health issues, the sufferer needs to accept their disorder. They then need to be ready to ask for help.
Many OCD sufferers are very self-aware. Because they know that their disorder causes strange behaviours that others around them may not understand, they may struggle with asking for help. They don’t want to be a burden to those around them, and they don’t want to be misunderstood or judged for their compulsions.
The decision to seek help needs to come from them. By all means, you can help to normalise asking for help by suggesting it, but it is important that we remember this decision cannot be made by us. Keep in mind that it may take a while for the sufferer to come to this decision.
Lowering expectations in this regard can be super helpful for everyone involved. It offers our loved one patience and time to accept their disorder and get comfortable with the idea of seeking help. We don’t want OCD sufferers to feel pushed or forced into treatment when they are not mentally ready to take on that challenge.
Come from a place of empathy
Offering empathy to those around us enhances the human experience. The only version of the world that I will ever truly know is the version that I see through my own eyes. This means, seeing things from someone else’s perspective requires effort. We need to purposefully try to relate to the other person’s life experiences in order to understand why they might feel the way they do.
Empathy is a communication skill that we can practice by simply asking ourselves, ‘I wonder how they are feeling, and why they are feeling it.’.. The more we can ask ourselves this question about those around us, the better we will become at seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
If we can offer empathy to our loved ones suffering from OCD, this will help them to feel understood and heard. Engaging in conversations from a place of empathy will encourage your loved one with OCD to be open with their struggles.
Put your biases and beliefs aside
We all have biases, it’s normal. Every single one of us has a unique set of life experiences that have shaped our beliefs and values. We’re all unique individuals with differing points of view. This is what makes relationships complicated and wonderful.
When engaging in a sensitive conversation like a loved one’s OCD, try your very best to put your biases and beliefs to one side.
For example, ‘believing’ OCD is controllable and a choice because we personally have never experienced it, isn’t going to be helpful for the person we’re speaking to, who probably wants nothing more than for their OCD to indeed be a choice so they can end their suffering.
It’s normal to have preconceptions about things. When we haven’t experienced something first hand, it can be challenging to put ourselves in the person’s shoes.
‘I’m biased because I have never experienced or met someone with OCD. It must be controllable.’ Just because we haven’t experienced something first-hand doesn’t make it any less real.
Putting biases and beliefs aside when talking about mental health is fundamental. There’s very little room for opinions when it comes to someone else’s mental health. If we can separate ourselves from our own judgements and biases, the conversation will be much more open and empathetic.
Is your loved one showing obsessive compulsive tendencies? Do you think or act on certain things compulsively, and find they are intruding on your quality of life? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online now.
Gabie Lazareff is a certified health coach, yoga teacher and freelance nutrition & wellness writer. After years of navigating the messy waters of mental health, her mission is to share her experiences and advice with others.