Dr Balu Pitchiah MBBS, MRCPsych, CCST,MBA (OXON)

Creating Accurate Portrayals of OCD in Film and TV


Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most commonly portrayed mental health disorders in film and TV. However, representation of this condition on the screen don’t always reflect the reality and variety of OCD.

Soaps and Mental Health

One of the most recent attempts to portray this condition on television comes in the form of Craig Tinker, a character in Coronation Street. Soaps have often paired drama with attempts to raise awareness of mental health and other issues. In this example, the character has been allowed to slowly develop the signs of OCD without falling into the usual Hollywood stereotypes of someone who has this condition.

Why It Matters?

Seeing representations of OCD and other mental health conditions on screen can raise awareness of the condition and enable those affected by it to see someone like themselves in the story. It can help people to feel less alone. However, it is essential for these issues to be handled sensitively and portrayed accurately in fiction.

Breaking Stereotypes

One of the biggest issues with fictional portrayals of OCD is that they tend to stick to the same well known stereotypes, without showing the variety of ways in which this condition can appear. For obvious reasons, fiction has often focused on the compulsive behaviours associated with OCD. The aspect of OCD that can be harder to portray on screen is the obsessive thoughts that drive these compulsive behaviours. Many characters with OCD do display obsessions with germs and cleanliness, but people with this condition can experience a wide range of different patterns of thought and behaviour. Common symptoms of OCD that are rarely seen on screen include:

  • Fear of having somehow caused harm to someone
  • Intrusive thoughts or images that seem to come out of nowhere
  • Repeatedly needing to ask for reassurance from those around you
  • Repeating words, phrases or numbers in your head or out loud
  • Checking your memory to ensure that intrusive thoughts aren’t actually memories

Showing these kinds of thoughts on screen is clearly more difficult than having a character talk about germs and wash their hands frequently. However, making efforts to represent a greater diversity of characters would make these portrayals more powerful and realistic.