Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners Update

Last week we published our concerns about the Channel 4 programme, Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners which was broadcast on Wednesday night, the first of a six part series. Like, seemingly all of the OCD community that have contacted us since the broadcast about the trivialisation of OCD, we share your frustration and anger. The only message delivered by this programme was to add to the misconceptions, confusion and misunderstanding to the general viewing audience have about what OCD is, and what OCD isn’t.

OCD-UK vice-chair, Catherine Mills shared her feelings "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."

Catherine's views have been echoed across the OCD community in the last 24 hours, Jo told us "I am gobsmacked. I thought we'd left the "laugh at the loonies" mentality back in the 19th century. Yet another example of mental health stigma. Next time I'm suicidal over my intrusive thoughts I'll try to see them as entertainment for the masses.". There were also concerns from health professionals too, OCD specialist and clinical psychologist Dr Fitzgerald expressed her concern to us, and will be sharing her feelings with us later in the week. Prior to broadcast, CBT therapist Carol Edwards had also shared her concerns about the programme in her blog. Thankfully, some in the world of television highlighted this programme for what it was, Christopher Howse of the Daily Telegraph also wrote this very damning review of the programme, and we thank Mr Howse for highlighting the severity of OCD within his piece, and doing more to inform what people with OCD can do for treatment in his few words that the programme did in its full 47:31 minutes of broadcast.

Yesterday (Thursday), OCD-UK have once again contacted the disability advisor at Channel 4 and urged them to reconsider their plans to broadcast the rest of this series. Our primary concern is that the series falsely gives the impression that people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder somehow gain pleasure from their compulsive cleaning. We feel that this not only trivialises the severity of those that suffer with contamination obsessive fears, but also adds further to the misconception that OCD is primarily about cleaning compulsions. In fact, the direct opposite is true, the NICE guidelines for OCD suggest one study showed that only 26.5% of people with OCD actually have cleaning compulsions. 

This misrepresentation about what OCD is all about can only lead to increased stigma for those that suffer, which we have already seen in the form of flippant Facebook and Twitter messages such as this one "I'd like to have OCD; it would give me the kick up the ass to tidy up my house when I get up". Yesterday we also received a very distressed voicemail message from a lady totally devastated by the impact that this programme had caused her, she told us "It was really hard seeing them portray the illness like that because it is (OCD) making my life absolute hell when I'm trying so hard to fight hard to inform people, but programmes likes that are absolutely disgusting.", she sadly told us during her voicemail that she was having a panic attack because of the impact of the programme. So take it from us Channel 4, NO, OCD should not be treated for entertainment value, it is a serious debilitating illness, and those that battle the anxiety of OCD on a daily basis deserve far more respect than you are affording them with programmes like this.

For those that have yet to see it, the programme description suggests that people with OCD that are compulsive cleaners have a special set of skills and a gift for cleaning that could change the habits of the nation, and in the programme Linda Dykes, sets out to recruit an army of obsessive compulsive cleaners to help clean Britain's dirty homes and filthy public spaces. Does Linda have OCD? Not for us to say, but again it is a damning indictment of Channel 4 that the programme failed to clarify the fact. But anyone that uses the phrases "Have I been called OCD, you better believe it" and "us OCD people can make things better, we can clean them up" in the same sort of flippant 'oh, I am a bit OCD' comments we all hear daily from people, perhaps does not have a clue about the intense anxiety, distress and debilitation that OCD can bring, and here lies the problem that this programme simply adds to the trivialisation of OCD.

Linda Dykes re-tweeted this comment, which suggests agreement, and which is a similar message that Channel 4 gave us last week, 'It's called #ObsessiveCompulsiveCleaners so it's all about people obsessed with cleaning. It's not about OCD as a general illness'. So if that is the official programme line, we would ask Channel 4, why did the lady at the Pitstop thank 'the OCD cleaning team'?, equally why did the programme voiceover refer to OCD throughout the programme? Why did Channel 4 add a list of OCD help organisations to their website? YES Channel 4, you know full well this was aimed at using OCD for your entertainment programme. OCD-UK very much believe that language used by the media can be positive or negative in changing misconceptions about OCD, and any programme which features people with OCD involved in cleaning, and uses the language ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’, ‘Obsessive Cleaners’ or ‘Compulsive Cleaners’ will inadvertently or maybe intentionally have the connotation, that this programme is all about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

OCD-UK's Ashley Fulwood commented "Channel 4's disability advisor in an attempt to justify this show told me last week that one of the participants with OCD had been helped by taking part, it had helped her challenge her OCD by facing some of her fears. Indeed, the lady in question mentioned that in this weeks show, which was the only positive 30 second moment in this bleak show, but I feel Betty TV and Channel 4 failed to capitalise on that by the voiceover failing to explain why this was helpful from a therapy point of view. Of greater concern to me is at the end, it suggested one of the participants was now "extra fussy and is cleaning more than ever". I do hope Betty TV are using their profits from the making of this series to help her get treatment, should she want it."

Another concern that we have with the programme is from a therapeutic point of view for those one or two taking part that would receive an OCD diagnoses, they were reinforcing the false belief that the sufferers' compulsive behaviours were useful and in the case of the gentleman that hoards, the programme seemed to suggest that could be helped by replacing it with other obsessive rituals, such as hoovering twice a day.

In summary, we feel that our pre-broadcast concerns of trivialisation of OCD, adding false misconceptions about OCD and adding to the stigma that those with OCD face were sadly realised when the programme was broadcast. So what now? We have written to Channel 4 to urge them to reconsider broadcasting the rest of this series, but we will be filing formal complaints with the Channel 4 executive that commissioned the programme, and with Ofcom based on the fact that our concerns were ignored by Channel 4 pre-broadcast (possibly in breach of Ofcom Broadcasting Code 2.2 and 2.3).

Whilst we remain incredibly disappointed in Channel 4, and realistically we doubt they will act upon our genuine concerns by cancelling the rest of this series, all we can now do is focus on our own work, and work harder and continue trying to put out accurate messages about what OCD is and the impact it can cause, and focus on taking a positive action to change the public’s perception of OCD.

Watched the programme? Please take a moment to complete the OCD-UK programme survey by clicking here.

Click here to read Dr Fitzgeralds views.


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