By Ivonne Kawas, University of Southern Mississippi
A University of Southern Mississippi professor turned to people with OCD to build a book that could tell their stories to the world.
Guided by first-hand narratives from those who are experiencing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Dr. Dana Fennell, professor of sociology in the School of Social Science and Global Studies at USM, explores the often misunderstood, trivialized, and sometimes stigmatized mental disorder in her new book, The World of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: The Experiences of Living with OCD (NYU Press, 2022).
Primarily based on interviews with over fifty people in the U.S and U.K. who felt they had OCD at some point in their lives, Dr. Fennell shines the light on the realities of people experiencing it, including the difficulties they face in the workplace and society.
In addition, to add depth to her research, Dr. Fennell also spoke with family members of those with the disorder, therapists, and people helping those with the disorder in innovative ways. She also collected and analyzed online materials about the disorder, and surveyed more than five hundred undergraduate students about their perceptions of the disorder.
Her research reveals the diversity of ways the disorder manifests, when and why people come to perceive themselves as having a problem, what treatment options they pursue, and how they make sense of and manage their lives.
Dr. Fennell highlights that her research is important because mental health problems are a global issue and linked to disability. Therefore, by contributing to society’s understanding of the stigma and trivialization of a complex disorder, it gives way to exploring ways to reduce social problems.
“Knowing more about the lives of people with these disorders will promote a more productive and humane society that is supportive of people’s mental health. People often joke about “being OCD.” However, public and sometimes professional knowledge of OCD can be limited. People with the disorder regularly go years struggling without help and are sometimes misdiagnosed,” said Dr. Fennell. “The book helps readers understand the hopes and difficulties that people with obsessions and compulsions face that have previously been hidden from view.”
As OCD affects people in complicated and diverse ways, Dr. Fennell says, “I hope the reader sees the connections between their own lives and those of the people in the book. The concerns that people with OCD have are ones that many of us have in contemporary society, as the content of people’s obsessions varies by culture and is related to the disquiets of that era.”
She adds, “We are living in a society that can foster doubt and uncertainty, especially during this pandemic.”
Some of the book praises include comments from Mike Vatter, of the “OCD: Sharing Our Stories” podcast, who referred to the book as “an essential read,” and Frederick Aardema, researcher and practitioner, who wrote that “it is a wonderful and much-needed contribution that allows those with OCD to speak in their own words, so that we can all learn from it.”