October 31, 2013

Jack on Extreme OCD CampJack featured in the TV series Extreme OCD Camp in Summer 2013

Let me start by saying Channel 4's 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners' inspired me to make the best decision of my life.

That decision, following on from watching series one of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners earlier this year, was that I felt I absolutely needed to apply to be part of a BBC3 Documentary called 'Extreme OCD Camp', that was shown in July/August as part of the BBC's Mental Health Season.

The reason Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners inspired this move? I had become utterly intolerant of watching stigmatizing, trivializing and awareness decreasing television shows that immorally belittled the condition I have suffered with for many years, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I wanted to be part of a TV show that showed OCD for the truly horrible, life changing/destroying and entirely serious condition it can be.

OCD is sadly one of the most misunderstood conditions in the world

OCD is sadly one of the most misunderstood conditions in the world. A condition the World Health Organisation (somewhat an authority on health!) regards as one of the top 10 most debilitating a human being can suffer from. Despite this, the term ‘OCD’ is still flippantly used all over the world on a daily basis. Just go and search twitter right now for 'ocd' to find proof and find hundreds of people 'so wishing I had OCD #likeclean' or 'aaah I'm so OCD about my iTunes!!'. These people do not realise how serious the condition is, all they know is what TV, celebrities or pop culture tells them and we have some silly opinions.

Most of these people are just ignorant in an innocent sense. They are not meaning to mock the condition that has ruined my life on several occasions, they are just unfortunately conditioned by media/society portrayals. This does mean media outlets like Channel 4 have a simple choice to make really; to educate and illuminate and create fantastic awareness AND great TV at the same time, or use the misunderstanding as an open goal to easy, cheap ratings. I tuned into the first episode of the second series curious as to which route C4 would take.

Channel 4 took a hell of a beating from the mental health awareness community over this show. A serious complaint made against the show the first time round was that it seemed to some like they had taken a by-product of their contributors mental health conditions and tried to spin it out as having a positive. Almost as if having OCD can actually be a benefit and that you can use it wisely to actually benefit yourself. Anyone reading this with OCD will currently be cringing at this ludicrous suggestion but apparently that suggestion sat well with some of the less mental-health-educated British public who did enjoy this programme. I had many friends say to me 'I saw that show about your condition last night, you can come clean my flat anytime mate!'. So, you can imagine why I was so desperate for this series to be done right.

Betty TV held a meeting with the charity OCD UK and representatives from the Time to Change campaign and improvements to the format were discussed. So I tuned in at 8pm with an open mind and hopeful desire to see a lot of positive changes.

As the show opens I feel the familiar pang of disappointment

As the show opens I feel the familiar pang of disappointment that the first series brought. Right at the start of the programme there is ample opportunity to explain what OCD really is. To explain how very unique and broad it is and to explain just how debilitating it is. How it can lead to depression, sectioning, suicide even. How you're about to see a light hearted version of events but if you need help here's the treatment options and so on. But, sadly, we don't hear any of that. Instead we are invited into a cheery world of pitting one extreme versus the other without real explanation as to what OCD is. Or, vitally, hoarding (and its OCD links).

Instead we are just shown the compulsions (cleaning) and not really given an insight into the horrific panic, stunning fear and immense trauma Obsessive Compulsive Disorder gives its sufferers. When a comment is made that could show distress, from either sides of the 'clean' or 'not clean' camps we don't have any voiceover or follow up as to why that's such a distress. We just see, a little, that it is.

We meet a mother and daughter couple diagnosed with OCD who are 'obsessed with cleaning'. Their 16 hour a day cleaning routine and their traits and slight nods towards the fact they have to deal with OCD first and foremost in their brains is a welcome start and I feel like just maybe Channel 4 will use their audience drawn in from their first effort to educate and make the positive changes they often talk about. I was wrong.

Later on we catch up with Hayley, Richard and Mark from series one

Later on we catch up with Hayley, Richard and Mark from series one. The next, and new, segment of the show will have the Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners using hospital equipment to measure the germ totals in different settings with this week’s setting being public toilets.

And I sighed that familiar sigh from the last series.

If Channel 4 and Betty TV had taken in the legitimate and educated concerns of sufferers, mental health professionals and OCD experts into account properly they would have realised that getting those with OCD, like Hayley, to do something like this is called 'reinforcement'. Essentially proving to herself her OCD (which is illogical thinking) has logic. It reinforces her 'need' to clean as much as she does and proves her 'right' to do what she does. Which she obviously isn't right doing, like I'm not, as both of us are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as we have a problem with the logic behind cleaning. For us we should challenge them, not indulge in them to get better a bit like young Tuesday does later on in the programme - even if ERP and treatment isn't once mentioned. This could all have been explained with a brief insight into how ERP and CBT can benefit an OCD sufferer. The opportunity was not taken.

The show continued and we saw the other homes become clean and livable and we had some happy tears and some new leases of life presented to us with every opportunity for us to turn off our TV's and say 'lovely, job done'. Sadly that is not the case. A clean home doesn't mean a hoarder is no longer a hoarder much like a washed set of hands does not mean an (contamination) OCD sufferer is no longer crippled with fear.

It is using Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for entertainment

To be honest I am struggling to find positives here. I believe this show has no place on television. Let's not make this any more complicated than it is, it is using Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for entertainment. Not education or documentation but pure entertainment. That is not appropriate subject matter at all. If Channel 4 commissioned a television show to be made using cancer, AIDS or down syndrome in a light hearted way (don't get any ideas, commissioners) we'd have a nation up in arms, so why not OCD? Well, because OCD is currently acceptable mocking material as it is misunderstood. So what do we need? Major television channels (like, say, Channel 4?!) to use their platform and to honour their commitments and pledges to supporting mental health awareness and to create television that can entertain by being factual, educational, relevant and represent the things it claims to represent.

OCC does not represent OCD. They can claim all they want that the show is about obsessive cleaning and not obsessive compulsive disorder but clearly with the many references to OCD, the diagnoses of the participants and, quite simply, the name itself it must accurately portray the very thing it has used to gain viewers, OCD. Sadly, Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners yet again fails to do that and after one week I'm already sick of it. I can't wait for the next 7 episodes to be done and hopefully this sorry excuse for a television show can be eradicated for good. Once that has gone we'll have to, ironically, clean up the stigma mess it has left behind.

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