Portrayal of OCD in Hollywood
Updated: Jan 30
By Noor Darwish
Having OCD can oftentimes feel very lonely, especially when people downplay the illness. Many times a person confides in a friend about their OCD and gets a reply like “Oh ya, I hate when my room is messy too” or “My pens always have to be in a straight line before I start writing.” Instead of having a friend support you, it feels like they are invalidating your illness.
OCD is about much more than just having a room clean, or keeping your pens straight. Even though many people’s OCD does have a cleanliness component to it, that’s not where the illness ends. Having rituals that include having to turn your light-switch on and off x amount of times every time or else you have terrible anxiety the whole day, having to not only double or triple but quadruple check every single door you lock to feel safe, repeatedly cleaning your hands until they are extremely sore to feel clean- those are only 3 examples of OCD. So when you're told that “it's just in your head” and “Oh ya I’m kinda OCD too”, it can feel invalidating.
Even looking at the way media portrays OCD can be laughable; OCD isn’t often used as a punch line. An example would be Sheldon from ‘The Big Bang Theory’; although it is a comedy show, the writers tend to play into what society thinks OCD is and write Sheldon’s OCD tendencies in an inappropriate way. Monica from Friends is also often rumored to have OCD, but it was never confirmed on or off the show, and, like the Big Bang Theory, the show continued to make fun of her cleaning habits and “OCD” for punchlines.
It is obviously not the writer’s intentions to make fun of OCD and push negative stereotypes into people’s minds, but a lot of the general public doesn’t fully comprehend what OCD is, they tend to play into show’s and films’ idea of it and invalidate people with clinical OCD.
When people feel lonely they often turn to movies, TV shows, celebrities, etc., and having them not respect and inaccurately portray OCD doesn’t help. This is due to the fact that people look to actors and characters as role models and tend to idolize them. But there are some movies that not only accurately portray OCD in the writing of them, but also in the acting. For example, the movie, ‘As Good As It Gets’, accurately portrays the main character, Melvin, played by Jack Nicholson, with OCD. You see how the illness has negatively and positively has affected his life. The character is shown trying to cope with his illness and overcome it as much as possible. Nicholson’s character must do one of the rituals that I mentioned previously which is locking and unlocking his doors 5 times (although not because of safety reasons). He also has to switch on and off his lights 5 times.
Nicholson’s character helps to lessen the stigma that people with OCD can't carry out normal lives. He was living his normal way of life and no one around him even knew about his illness. This shows that people with OCD should not be alienated from society and can more often than not live normal, productive lives as it is a silent illness.
Even though not everyone has the same symptoms of OCD that Nicholson’s character has, it is one of the best (in my opinion) portrayals of OCD in film and television and is how OCD should be portrayed-in a way that shows the character coping and the effects of the illness, not as a storyline that can be used for some laughs, or used as a plot device just to be dropped and forgotten.
OCD, more often than not, is shown inaccurately by Hollywood. The more people get to understand the illness, the more people with OCD will be able to continue to play an active role in society. Although people with OCD can have a harder time with everyday tasks due to their illness, this doesn’t make them not “normal” or a punchline to a joke; they are much more than the majority of films and television series tend to tell their audiences.
What is required is a true understanding of the illness, not comedic relief.