What We're Still Getting Wrong About OCD

Photographed by Eylul Aslan.
Stranger Things and Riverdale actress Shannon Purser has always been honest about her struggles with mental health. And last week, she opened up further in an essay for Teen Vogue, this time revealing that she suffered from a combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression that was "slowly taking over every facet of [her] life."
While many of us might think of OCD as having to obsessively wash your hands or needing to do a certain routine five times before leaving the house, it's more complex than that. As Purser puts it, her OCD "caused [her] to stop talking to people," and subsequently suffer from depression.
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Even though OCD doesn't always go hand-in-hand with depression, it's fairly common for people who have OCD to also experience depression. In fact, a study from 2011 suggested that as many as two-thirds of people who have OCD also go through a major depressive episode during their illness.
Tamar Chansky, PhD, founder of the Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety and author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, says that this may partly be the case because OCD can involve intrusive, unwanted thoughts that are extremely isolating. In turn, Dr. Chansky says, this can trigger loneliness and depression.
"Intrusive thoughts is another word for obsession," she says. "Some will call them popper thoughts because they 'pop in' unrelated to the circumstances you’re in. [They] might be in the middle of something at work and have some bad thought about their family."
Dr. Chansky says that these thoughts are usually negative, and can involve things like cheating on a partner or wanting to harm other people, even if the people suffering never actually act on those thoughts.

They start to feel trapped, and depression can follow from there.

Tamar Chansky, PhD
"[Those thoughts] send the feeling of, Oh my god, I can't believe I thought this," she says. "When you don’t know about OCD and aren’t in treatment, you personalize that thought, like, I’m such a terrible person."
For Purser, her intrusive thoughts "totally warped [her] self-image," and made her believe that she was evil, disgusting, and perverted." And Dr. Chansky explains that the longer someone suffers without help, the more likely they are to develop depression.
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"As [OCD] takes more control of a person’s life, they feel like they can’t trust themselves, that people shouldn’t trust them," she says. "They start to feel trapped, and depression can follow from there."
Moreover, Dr. Chansky says, OCD can be so isolating because some people "make their lives smaller" to avoid situations that trigger an obsession or obsessive thought. And other times, people feel so trapped by the rituals they need to do because of OCD, that they feel like they have no life outside of those rituals — all of which can contribute to depression.
But Dr. Chansky stresses that OCD is very treatable (as is depression) through therapy and medication, and once you recognize that having passing intrusive thoughts doesn't mean that you are those thoughts or that you want to act on them, you'll be able to see them as the "junk mail" that they are in your mind.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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