Monday, August 07, 2006


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This follows on from an earlier posting by Dr. Deborah Serani at Psychological Perspectives. The post examined the humorous or offensive (dependent on viewpoint) t-shirts for mental disorders and invoked some spirited discussion.

In a similar vein, I encountered the action figure that features at the head of this post. Obsessive-Compulsive Guy for sale at an Australian online store for the princely sum of AUD $19.00.

The blurb reads as follows:

This 13.3 CM tall, hard vinyl Obsessive-Compulsive action figure is worried about whether or not you washed your hands after you used the bathroom. Just in case, he's sure you won't mind if he wears his gloves and surgical mask when he shakes your hand. Or even better, maybe you could just bump elbows with him. Now, as soon as he finishes counting those ceiling tiles, he can get started on alphabetizing the canned foods. Mini surgical mask included. Packaged with a sanitary, hypo-allergenic towelette to clean off the figure before you touch it. Illustrated blistercard.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be extremely distressing, not only for the sufferer but for family and friends too. Yet often we see OCD portrayed as a relatively benign and humorous condition in the media. Think Monk, think As Good As It Gets, think What About Bob?

People had very mixed reactions to the mental disorder t-shirts. Some people said they would quite openly wear the t-shirts, preferring to approach their disorder with a dash of humour. A very valid viewpoint. Others found the t-shirts offensive and counterproductive to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. Also valid.

But when does it go too far? When does humour become bad taste? What determines your reaction to this figure? Does it add to public ignorance of this condition by reinforcing stereotypical behavioural traits associated with OCD? Would OCD Guy be more acceptable if some of the proceeds were donated to OCD research as opposed to lining someone's pockets?

What do you think?

Obsessive-Compulsive Guy
The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation


jumpinginpuddles said...

no way i have a key ring that says this
"i do what the voices inside my head tell me to do"

How cool would that be on a T shirt :D

Alison said...

I'm kind of with Jumping Puddles on this. Humour diffuses stuff, but only if the owner of the disorder says it's ok. I think that's about the only rule here. I like to crack jokes about shrinks as they are about the strangest group of people you'll ever come across. That's a joke. I can make it because I'm a shrink. (Mind you, if someone else cracked it, I'd still laugh). On another hand, I recently saw a PJ shirt with the slogan, "I understand but I don't care". I thought it was a damn funny way to announce you are going to bed. Shrinks have compassion fatigue too you know!!

Claire said...

my son wears one that reads

you're just jealous cos the little voices are talking to me...

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

You know, I think this is not THAT bad. I think it could go either way.

healthpsych said...

Humour can be a valuable coping mechanism and I certainly use it in coping with my health problems. I was just interested to see how people would react to an action figure as opposed to a product that could be simply seen as a witty play on words. Thanks for voicing your opinion.

Hi Alison,
Totally agree about the ownership aspect and it's not just in mental health either. In my earlier post, when I talked about weight added through steroids, part of my coping mechanism was to make light of it but I noticed I had a bit of a double standard going on and was far more sensitive to others attempts to do that!

Hi Claire,
That sounds a little like some of the t-shirts Dr. Serani blogged about. I think the problem with those were that they actually involved a diagnostic code too.

Hi Deborah,
You're right as usual. A question of individual reaction. It is interesting though to see how the reaction might differ to an 'action figure'

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have mixed feelings in general, but that little blurb about OCD guy is a bit far. I'm afraid that if it becomes too much of a laughing matter, then people who are suffering may not want to get help because they are afraid that they will be laughed at. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the humor, although it certainly dumbs OCD down to a sterotype. I have OCD, and when it's not taking over my life, it is pretty weird and offers much to laugh about.

drytears said...

I read this post a couple of days ago, and waited with my response because I wanted to think more on it, and I have found myself going back and forth.

The OCD guy I believe is way over the top, and I find it to be very offensive. I don't have OCD so I don't know how someone with OCD would respond to it, but I myself would be scared to seek treatment, and if I did seek treatment I would hide it thus incresing the stigma.

As for the t-shirts it depends I guess, if it's the person with the illness wearing the t-shirt and they are fine with that, ok. Though I know that some people without mental illnesses will wear those t-shirts just because, and because of that many people don't even assume that people wearing those types of shirts have mental illnesses. Most don't put much thought into the mental illness side that those shirts have, really it's only people who are associated with mental disorders that think about these things, for the most part anyway,(atleast in my opnion).

On the other hand, in my psych class last year we did a lot of skits, and I always felt that everyone went a bit over the top in showing people with mental illnesses in their attempts at humor with their skits. Still though, I let it go by and anyway I wasn't diagnosed yet. Thinking back now if I had been diagnosed or another student in the class had a mental illness I would imagine that they would have been very embarrassed and ashamed by what their classmates thought of mental disorders. I would NEVER had told my friends about my mental illness during that class. But... I also don't want to be the one where everyone quiets when I come around because what they say might be offensive to me. I don't want people think/saying "oh, I can't do that, drytears may hear or see."

I guess I'd like to be able to talk about it openly and joke about it, but their is a fine line there, I believe, that once crossed proves to be very uncomfortable for both sides.

I also just found out that my psych teacher has depression and has been treated for the last two years (he told me after I told him what happened this summer). I wonder how he reacted to some of our skits? Was he offended?

Ok, I'll stop rambling now, not sure if anyone will be able to make any sense of that. :S

BTW, excellent post!


Anonymous said...

I posted before, and although I do see the humor in the doll, I know many people do not. One thing about OCD: everyone is so different, in spite of there being certain typical patterns. A person who cleans compulsively might look at someone who hoards tons of, say, old magazines, with a shudder, thinking, thank gd I don't do that!

Private voices are something to joke about--but not if they are making your life a living hell. Ditto with OCD. I personally don't have germ, cleaning, or counting compulsions--perhaps if the doll seemed to be making fun of me personally, I might not see the humor. Then again, I might. I'm easy with humor.

Humor has more meaning when shared--and in this case, who it is shared with, and the spirit it is shared in, is of the essence. A commercial object, like this doll, reeks of exploitation. But get real, the manufacturer exploits other figures, including Albert Einstein, an author/librarian who "shushes," a male nurse, and a "crazy cat lady" complete with cats. (The actual manufacturer has many more figures on its web site.)

Humor exists in a zone between acceptance and discomfort--something that can be recognized. If the general public can see the humor in OCD, it is a measure of this recognition. This in itself is a good thing; not all deviance falls into this category.