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What Your Friend with OCD Wants You to Know

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder isn’t as common as some other mental illnesses, such as general anxiety and depression. As a result, it’s often overlooked in discussions of mental health and the stigmas around it.


There are two components to OCD: obsessions…

Obsessions are things that you can’t get out of your head. You know that feeling when you leave your house and you don’t remember if you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove? That’s similar to how we feel, only it will be over things like numbers, mistakes, throwing things away, etc., all depending on the strain of OCD.


And compulsions.

Compulsions are the things we have to do to get rid of the obsessions. For example, someone with the hoarding strain may have an obsession with needing all of their “stuff” in case of a disaster in the future. Their compulsion to ease that obsession might be to keep all of their stuff and never throw anything away.

It’s not all about being clean.

That’s a stereotype. There are many strains of OCD, and the cleanliness strain is just one of them.

Watch your language!

Don’t joke about mental illness, no matter what the circumstances. This is something I can’t walk away from, but something you can say as a flippant remark. You being organized does not make you “OCD”. If you don’t see a problem in that, you’re probably not a very good friend in general, let alone to someone with a mental illness.

I’ll probably ask you a bunch of questions.

For those of us with the perfectionism strain, there’s nothing worse than making a silly mistake, because we could ruminate on it for hours, days, or even weeks. To avoid it, we’ll probably ask a bunch of questions to avoid getting in that situation — and we may even ask the same question twice.

And I want you to ask me questions too!

Maybe don’t ask me about what I obsess over or what my compulsions are, that’s a little personal. But if you want to be a better friend to someone with OCD, it can never hurt to ask what they need and to try and understand what tweaks their brain. Everyone experiences it differently, so asking about what they need really shows that you see them as a person more than an illness.

Oh, and did you know that some of your favourite celebrities also have OCD?

My favourite example is Leonardo DiCaprio. There’s a reason he puts his all into everything — he has the perfectionism strain, just like me!

The best thing you can do is to be patient.

Sometimes we’ll need to take more time on things than an able-minded person does. Compulsions can take up huge chunks of our time, and it’s not something we can just push aside for later when it’s convenient.

We have to do things differently, but we can still do everything you can do.

No one knows how to avoid our obsessions better than we do, so trust the way that we need to do things. Even when we need to face the compulsions, we know how to handle them best. Just because we have to think about things differently doesn’t make our version any less valid.

And there’s always thought behind our actions.

Trust me when I say that we do not do these things for fun or attention. It may be funny to watch the compulsion of someone washing their hands five times, but it’s a lot less funny when you learn that this person is obsessed with the thought of killing you with their germs, so they have to avoid it. You only see the exterior, and that’s only half of what’s going on.

We just want to be your friend — not your charity.

First and foremost, we’re people too. We may have a mental illness, but we want all the same things you do. Your love and time is worth the world. Treat us how you would any other friend, even if our problems expand beyond what you may always understand.

Madeline McInnis

Wilfrid Laurier '19

Madeline graduated from the BA+MA program at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2020. In her undergraduate degree, she majored in Film Studies and History with a specialization in film theory. She later completed her Master's of English degree, where she wrote her thesis on the construction of historical memory and realism in war films. If you're looking for a recommendation for a fountain pen or dotted notebook, she should be your first line of contact.
Jenna Steadman

Wilfrid Laurier

4th year Psychology major at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo ON.