Channel 4: OCD you got this one badly wrong!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am delighted that there is greater profile given to mental health issues on TV than ever before. However, are we in danger of creating a new genre of voyeuristic parody that misrepresents the true nature of mental health problems?

If you have watched the Chanel 4 programme (now in its 4th of 6 weeks), Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, you may have thought this was an edition of ‘Flog It’ or ‘Cash in the Attic.’ The voice over is incredibly twee and patronising. You can hear the gushing of fake sympathy to the point that he might as well be saying, ‘look at these complete nuts, can you believe what they are doing?!”

OCD-UK vice-chair, Catherine Mills comments on the excellent site: "As a sufferer of OCD for over 40 years, Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners left me disheartened and frustrated. It came across as Channel 4's attempt to pitch one set of 'freaks' against another with the outcome that the viewer will have gone away with a very muddled message about OCD and lacking insight as to the devastation it brings to the lives of true sufferers. Our fight to demystify and detrivialise OCD could be put back years by this programme."

I am always infuriated by how OCD is trivialised in society at large and this programme serves to reinforce all of those stereotypes. It has become almost standard form these days to coin the phrase, ‘I’m a little bit OCD,” about any cleaning or repetitive activity. In fact the NICE guild lines state that less than 27% of OCD sufferers are ‘Cleaners’. Of course the actual figure is vastly lower, probably less than 5% since the majority of OCD ‘bad thought’ sufferers never seek NHS treatment. As a result all of the figures are skewed by OCD conditions that have an obvious outward compulsion.

Christopher Howe’s in the Telegraph wrote of the show, “This freak show...trivialised an illness suffered by perhaps half a million people in Britain. The disorder covers a spectrum of severity, but to say that someone with OCD “loves cleaning” is like saying that someone with anorexia “loves slimming” or that someone with depression “loves a good cry”. If you want to get an insight into just how painful and serious OCD really is I suggest that you have a read of ‘The Beast of OCD’ a testimonial article written for Mind and Soul by a sufferer. As someone who has a GAD diagnosis I rarely refer to the part that obsessional thinking plays in my own life. I think that anyone with GAD, who has felt even a small part of the pain of obsessional thinking, would have only the deepest admiration for the courage of those with severe OCD.

This whole show makes me so upset. Even the ad breaks are filled with adverts for cleaning products! lists the subtext with pop-ups for Lenor: “45 year old clean freak Mark will be featured on tonight’s episode of Channel 4′s Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners and he’ll be showing off his sparkling Hampshire home.” Really?! 5% of people with OCD have attempted suicide at some point in their lives and 8.2% have persistent thoughts about suicide. Do we really care about Marks sparkling home when this is disorder can literally be a matter of life or death? Chanel 4 you should be deeply ashamed of yourselves.  In 1814, 96,000 visitors watched the mentally ill in the ‘Bedlam Freak Shows’. I am sure they would have given you an award for this sort of exploitative and humiliating material (then!)
Will Van Der Hart, 13/03/2013
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