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  • Catherine Benfield

The Good Practice Guide for Reporting on OCD

Olivia reading a newspaper with the words recovery, Waving, OCD, Hope and intrusive thoughts on the cover. There is a sunset behind her.

OCD has had a tricky time in the media. Often misrepresented and referred to as a quirk, OCD is a condition that is vulnerable to manipulation and sensationalism. People with OCD have had to watch their condition described more for entertainment purposes than to represent what is actually an incredibly distressing condition.

The great news is that things are changing! Over the past couple of years, a new wave of journalists have come forward, committed to representing OCD in its actuality and ensuring they write about it in a non-stigmatic, factually correct way. We are seeing steps taken to ensure ethical reporting and to show compassion for those who experience OCD, and that is a wonderful step forward.

If you’re reading this, especially if you are writing about or representing OCD to a large audience, I want to say a huge thank you. By reading this article, you're making sure you know exactly how to represent OCD in a way that helps spread awareness and avoids harming our community.

Right, let’s get started.

The Good Practice Guide for Reporting on OCD

Make sure you have a correct understanding of OCD.

When writing about OCD,  it’s vital that you understand OCD. Misrepresenting OCD causes:

  • delays in people getting diagnosed

  • people missing diagnosis altogether

  • an increase in stigma and further misrepresentation of OCD

  • issues in relationships for people with OCD

  • a life changing impact for those you are writing about 

To give you a good foundation for understanding OCD, please visit the website of the wonderful OCD Action. You can read their description of OCD here. 

Don’t go it alone - use people trained to work with the media or find someone through charities. 

We have wonderful OCD charities that have media volunteers. Work with them - it's a free service and will add validity to your work.  

Many people recovering from OCD want to share their stories to help others going through the same thing. It’s empowering. Finding people to write about through social media could be considered unethical. You are essentially messaging someone who is (or has, up until recently, been) mentally unwell. Protect those of us with OCD by going through the charities. A huge benefit is that the charities can provide aftercare for the article's subject. 

Get an OCD specialist or a charity that understands OCD to read over it. Also, invite them to add a couple of paragraphs to the article to write about OCD. 

You can't lose here; choosing to do this will ensure that you are writing correctly about OCD and adding validity to your work. It will also make the experience safer for the person you represent in your work and those who read it. People are starting to expect collaboration between journalists and charities in good mental health articles; it is often apparent when missing. 

Add a section on where to get more information or further help

People may have questions about OCD after reading your article. They may even realise they have been struggling with some symptoms. Your reporting could help some extremely poorly people. By signposting your readers onto further support, your article could be the beginning of helping lives change for the better. 

Give the person you are writing about a copy edit.

There are horror stories about people with OCD not being allowed to change parts of their articles before release. Please don’t do this. Those with OCD are highly prone to overthinking, and the outcomes of that refusal could be incredibly damaging. OCD is a condition that is vulnerable to misinterpretation, especially when discussing distressing intrusive thoughts. If you are meeting resistance from your editor, please show them this article.

Don't pair people with actual OCD with those who are misusing the term OCD.

If your radio segment, TV show, or written report covers more than one person with OCD, please make sure all involved actually have OCD and not just a love of cleaning or organisation. People sharing their stories in the past have appeared in articles alongside people from Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners (a show about cleaning, not OCD) or even adverts for items that play on the OCD acronym - Obsessive Christmas Disorder, Obsessive Coffee Disorder, etc). I once heard someone talking about severe perinatal OCD on the radio, and the other person they interviewed believed they had OCD because they enjoyed collecting shells. Combining items like this spreads misconception and can be highly invalidating and distressing for the person who agrees to share their story.  

Include words of hope and treatment options. 

OCD is a complex condition to live with, but there are a range of treatments available, and many people can successfully manage their condition and go on to live happy and enriching lives. Letting people know about treatment options and the ability to live a good life will give them hope. You can learn about treatment options for OCD here.

When not to write about OCD

If your editor tends towards sensationalism, please don't write about OCD.

If you know the particular editor attached to the piece will stop at nothing to get a good story, please don’t write about OCD.

I’ve spoken to journalists who wrote beautiful articles only to have them sensationalised by their editors: manipulated headlines, incorrect information about OCD, and exaggerated, highly personal details given out. If you are writing for someone like this, please don’t cover OCD. The consequences are just too high. 

Examples of good reporting

Below are a couple of articles that were written about me. The journalists followed every point above. They are factually correct, both about OCD and me, and they are the product of great working partnerships with OCD Action. I was respected and felt looked after at every step of the journey. 

To end...

Thank you so much for considering writing about OCD. A correct, beautifully informed article can help reverse the stigma and misrepresentation that have thwarted the condition for years. It can also change and even save lives.  

You’ll find OCD Action very willing to help you in any way they can.

There doesn't need to be a choice between getting OCD right and gaining readership. It is totally possible to do both and to do it well.

Sending you a huge thanks for reading this.


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