Over the weekend the American singer Katy Perry tweeted what she perhaps felt passed for humour in her part of the world.
I’m so OCD I prefer being called CDO…then the letters are in alphabetical order and all is right in the world again.
She also posted:
Now glossing over the fact it is not actually that funny, this kind of thing being posted by someone with over 88 million followers really does nothing positive to change misconceptions about OCD. In fact it adds to the false stereotype that OCD is about being quirky and needing things just right.
OCD-UK did politely reply to ask if we can send some information about OCD to the former Mrs Brand. As you can imagine, various responses followed from her fans and our followers. One person commented she is allowed to make such comments because she has OCD. The justification for such a claim came from this quote from Elle magazine.
The 28-year-old singer openly admitted she suffers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which can cause her to freak out if things disturbed in her normal routine. “I have OCD tendencies. I do strange things with buttoning everything up and colour coordinating it, hanging it in a certain way”.
Now it is not my place to say if she suffers with OCD or not, the quote above is not sufficient evidence there is significant disruption and impact on her life to form a basis for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the key being the word ‘disorder’ of course. But it actually does not matter if she suffers or not, the tweet was incredibly unhelpful for OCD awareness.
Sadly, until we have some kind of D-Day awareness campaign which emphasises the D in OCD, such crass jokes will continue. On a personal level I am not offended by such jokes but I am deeply saddened when someone of such stature chooses to mock OCD.
As you would expect, any kind of calm and polite challenge of Katy’s tweets by OCD-UK and other individuals were dismissed with ease by some of Katy’s sycophantic followers, it’s what followed that concerned me. The charity tweet and the response from Katy’s followers generated two typical responses from some of our followers.
One type of response was something worded along the lines of “I have OCD and it did not offend me”, which of course I acknowledge and I am not asking people to be offended.
I once wrote in Compulsive Reading (The OCD-UK members magazine) that If we are to make a significant difference in changing perceptions and understanding about OCD then we must all work together, and see the bigger picture for the cause of advancing awareness and understanding about OCD.
Whilst Katy’s lame excuse for a joke did not offend me either I am all too aware that sometimes things that seem inoffensive to some of us may be very different to someone struggling with their OCD. In my working role I do not have the luxury of seeing issues surrounding OCD from my own personal experiences – I have a duty to see the bigger picture for all and act accordingly.
What is the answer to this problem? Increased awareness of course, in fact the aforementioned D-Day idea although written in jest, is starting to resonate with me more and more. But whatever awareness approach is taken the key is talking to people, helping them understand the fact OCD is a devastating anxiety illness. We know that communication and talking works, OCD-UK spent 18-months with a Time to Change funded project in the East Midlands where my colleague Beth and her fantastic team of volunteers engaged the public in calm, rational and meaningful discussion. Something we featured in the April 2015 Compulsive Reading and where Beth offered some fantastic advice on how to engage people that may not be initially open to discussion.
Talking to people usually works just fine, shouting at people on social media using inflammatory comments does not work. Responding to unhelpful comments about OCD with anger, aggression and vitriol is not conducive to helpful, perception changing discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I totally feel like that sometimes, but responding to people that way simply does not work.
Robert Quillen an American journalist once wrote:
Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.
Believe it or not people that joke about OCD are usually not trying to be offensive, for the most part they have simply not experienced the devastation of OCD before, and have been left influenced on the subject by programmes like Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners and crass jokes like those posted by Katy Perry. Beth and her team found that for the most part the people that they engaged in conversation are always happy to listen, and there is no better way to respond to ignorance, either online or offline, than with a soft response like: “Hi *Username* I’ve suffered significantly with OCD in the past, would it be ok if I briefly explain how?”
Most people will actually listen, they may not always understand but if you get them to agree to listen then you have a chance to change their perception about OCD, and that is an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
Yeah, of course there will always be the ignorant who are not willing to engage in reasoned discussion, and simply want to mock with sarcasm, but that’s a reflection of them, not us and if that happens simply use the ‘block’ button and focus on talking to those that want to listen to you. To quote my colleague Beth.
The wilfully ignorant and unsympathetic are far outnumbered by the curious and the kind.
Just my observations and opinion.