CW: This article contains upsetting themes relating to mental health. Reader discretion is advised.
Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
A Christmas card making light of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has been found for sale in The Shop, a retail outlet on Highfield Campus that is part of the network of facilities operated by SUSU.
The card (pictured below) has the following tagline on the front: ‘I didn’t know I had OCD until I saw your Christmas tree’.
For some, this is nothing more than a harmless joke. However, OCD UK defines the condition as ‘a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts, often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges.’
Furthermore, they estimate that 750,000 people in the UK may be impacted by OCD at one time. It affects around 12 in every 1,000 people, which amounts to 1.2% of the overall population.
I am one of those 750,000. I can’t speak for whoever designed that card, but I didn’t know that I had OCD until a debilitating mental breakdown meant that I could barely leave my bed, missed a significant amount of Sixth Form and had to go on a high dose of anti-depressants in order to survive. But I guess that wouldn’t flow so well on the front of a Christmas card.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that this incredibly serious condition has been marketed as a cute personality trait. Last year, TK Maxx pulled a range of Christmas products following complaints that it ‘triviliaised’ the condition with slogans like: ‘I have OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder’.
— WalesOnline (@WalesOnline) November 29, 2018
What is it about Christmas that makes people think it’s acceptable to make light of a condition that impacts the lives of hundreds and thousands of people all year long? Furthermore, what made SUSU and the University think that this card wasn’t in any way problematic? Reducing OCD to someone who really likes even baubles on a tree or someone who really enjoys the festive season invalidates the daily struggles and suffering people with the condition face every day of their life.
It’s impossible to understand OCD unless you’ve gone through it, but some of the most common symptoms, according to Young Minds, are the following:
• your mind being ‘invaded’ by horrible thoughts repeatedly
• scared, disgusted, guilty, tearful, doubtful or depressed
• a powerful urge to do something to stop the feelings
• temporary relief after rituals
• a need to ask for reassurance or get people to check things for you
Not so funny now, is it? It’s easy to say that people who come out in criticism of this are part of a ‘snowflake’ generation who can’t take a joke, but seeing an evidently debilitating and distressing illness trivialised and used as a marketing tool is incredibly distressing. It serves to reinforce a very sad fact: society will never truly understand what people with OCD actually go through.
I spoke to another student at the University who also lives with the condition, and they had this to say:
I’m really disappointed to see my mental illness treated as the punchline of a joke. Statements like this are tasteless and reinforce negative stereotypes that OCD isn’t something to be taken seriously.
So, with OCD being such a prelevant condition, this raises the question of how and why this card came to be seen as acceptable to be put on the shelves and sold to the masses – especially by an organisation who claims to work to ‘promot[e]the interests and welfare of members at the University of Southampton’.
Personally, I am incredibly disappointed and confused as to how this card was signed off as appropriate to sell by the Students’ Union. If they don’t find this kind of content to be a cause for concern, I seriously worry about whether or not they truly have the interests of students at heart. I really hope that they reconsider not only whether or not this card should be sold, but also the guidelines they use to determine what is and isn’t appropriate.