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Organized or OCD?

Writing sticky notes and cleaning a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you have this medical condition.

Article Author: Johnny Woodhouse

Article Date:

Lining up paper clips
On their own, obsessive or compulsive personality traits do not constitute a mental illness.

It’s your day off from work and instead of relaxing by a swimming pool or the ocean you would rather spend the day cleaning your house from top to bottom.

Maybe you’re someone who thrives on being organized and can’t live without sticky notes covering every inch of your work space.

Does this make you:

  • Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or 
  • Someone who takes great satisfaction in a job well done

On their own, obsessive or compulsive personality traits do not constitute a mental illness. But when you can’t do your job because you’ve run out of sticky notes or can’t leave the house for fear of leaving one germ behind, you may have a real mental health issue.

“What distinguishes an individual with true OCD from someone who is just really organized is the level of distress that the person experiences, as well as an interference with functioning,” said Katie Mahon, PhD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “Everybody has obsessive thoughts from time to time. What’s not typical is when those thoughts interfere with normal functioning, and may lead you to perform compulsive behaviors that you don’t enjoy doing.”


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD affects one in 40 adults in the U.S. and one in 100 children. OCD can create a huge “time suck” for the individual, time that could be spent doing something more productive.

“If you find pleasure in cleaning and it’s something you want to do and you are able to do all the other things you need to do, that’s considered adaptive, healthy functioning,” said Dr. Mahon, who treats adults and children. “But when you spend a lot of time organizing to the point where you can’t get anything else done and it causes a significant amount of distress, that may point to something along the OCD spectrum.”

Some people can hide their OCD pretty well, Dr. Mahon added, and many live out their lives without ever seeking help.

“With OCD, there may be a really long lag time between the onset of symptoms and treatment,” she said. “In some studies, the average is about 10 years. As a teenager, I experienced some OCD-like symptoms and was fortunate to receive treatment. When I became a psychologist, I became interested in helping others with it.”

One of the most effective treatments for OCD is something called “exposure with response prevention,” or ERP, which looks at the underlying processes that may cause behavior changes.

According to a 2018 article in Psychology Today, ERP involves exposure to the feared stimuli and simultaneous prevention of a ritual, which is typically performed in the face of the anxiety-provoking obsession.

For instance, a patient challenges his or her obsession of contamination by touching sinks and communal door handles and then goes to eat without being allowed to wash up first. After eating, the patient realizes he or she did not become deathly ill and the fear is conquered.

In 2018, Eric Storch, PhD, an expert on ERP, led a two-day, 10-hour workshop on the treatment of pediatric OCD at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. The workshop was co-sponsored by Baptist Health and OCD Jacksonville, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation.

“True OCD can cause a significant amount of distress, but there are a lot of effective treatments for it,” said Dr. Mahon, who attended the workshop. “People don’t have to suffer in silence.”

If you suspect that you might suffer from OCD, Baptist Behavioral Health offers 15 convenient office locations throughout Northeast Florida. To find a provider in your area, call 904.376.3800.

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