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When you speak to many individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, you will hear different perspectives on how the symptoms came to be and how they were diagnosed. Often there is a stereotype that all folks with OCD are extremely neat and orderly. In reality, OCD can affect different aspects of a person’s life, ranging from occurrences of contamination fears to sexual orientation anxiety. Due to the variety of symptoms and their association with other psychiatric disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder is at a higher risk of misidentification

A survey conducted between 2012 and 2013 asked 1,172 New York physicians to provide a diagnosis based on a predetermined OCD scenario/”vignette”. Of the 208 doctors that responded to the survey, 50.5% of them misdiagnosed/misidentified based on the symptoms presented to them. Because of the misidentification of OCD, the physicians were less likely to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and SSRI medication, which are more effective treatments. 

Consequences of Misdiagnosis

When someone is misdiagnosed it could prevent them from receiving the life changing care that they need. Exposure response prevention (ERP), a subset of CBT, and SSRI antidepressants highly effective treatment models. Alternatively, if an OCD sufferer is diagnosed with a different psychiatric disorder, they could recommend a less effective treatment. For example, using talk therapy as the primary method of treatment. 

Another reason why an OCD diagnosis is challenging is because the individual may not realize they have symptoms or they just don’t know where to get help. There can also be a lot of shame or fear around sharing details of their actual experiences. For example, if someone has violent intrusive thoughts, there is a fear that a practitioner might not recognize that symptom as part of OCD. It can feel very isolating for an individual’s symptoms to be misunderstood, especially by a mental health practitioner. 

Increasing Awareness around OCD

To increase funding for research and treatment of OCD, there needs to be an increase in awareness. In addition, when we look to destigmatize mental health, it helps break the barriers preventing individuals from receiving the support and treatment they need. In addition, joining an OCDPeers group is a great way for individuals to gain support from trained peer support specialists and members of the OCD community.