ocd representation in media: my take

hello and welcome! for this blog, i’ll be discussing different characters that represent obsessive compulsive disorder in media. first of all, i’d like to note that these aren’t all of the characters who have it–i’ll only be talking about the ones who i’ve personally seen on screen and know about.

(Content Warning: Mental Illness, Suicide)


monica geller from friends

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this is a show that i grew up watching, and monica was always my favorite character because i thought she was strong, smart, and funny in her own way. then, when i grew up, i found that a lot of people didn’t feel the same at all. they found her uptight, obnoxious, and controlling. they would say: i can’t stand monica–she’s so ocd. that was probably the first time i ever heard ocd used as an adjective and in a derogatory way. two birds with one stone, right?

now, let’s dissect how effective she is as a representative of the disorder. while it is positive that monica’s character was able to stir up conversation and build awareness, there’s no denying the negative impact it had. because the form her disorder took mostly revolved around cleanliness and order, people often took that at face value and assumed that was all there is to ocd. that couldn’t be further from the truth. it’s a diverse spectrum of symptoms and coping mechanisms that simply couldn’t be encompassed by a 90s sitcom; and the sad part is, that’s about as mainstream as it gets, so that’s what frames the narrative of how people view the disorder.


daisy randone from girl, interrupted

Image about daisy in Brittany Murphy ✞☪ by ☮madddiiee☮

Girl, Interrupted is one of the most life-changing pieces of media i’ve ever consumed, both the book and the film. it presents mental illness in a jarringly accurate way, particularly with the character of daisy. her diagnosis in the book and film is ocd, and that’s about the only reason you recognize that she has it. that may sound like a negative thing as far as representation goes, but i’d argue that it’s extremely smart and well-done. 

i think that daisy is an excellent example of how ocd can manifest when mixed with other mental illnesses, which it commonly does. daisy also suffers from addiction, eating disorders, and severe depression. she doesn’t wash her hands often, keep everything tidy, or have everything in perfect order. she’s just a smart, pretty, antisocial young woman who happens to suffer from the disorder. ocd often stems from trauma or extreme stress, both of which daisy suffers from, and it ultimately leads to her taking her own life. i consider her to be strong, accurate representation, even though she meets a tragic end.


Bob wiley from “what about bob?”

Tommy London - “There are two types of people. Those who like Neil Diamond,  and those who don't” - Bob Wiley #WhatAboutBob | Facebook

i absolutely despise this movie. it was one of my mom’s favorites, and we used to watch it together when i was little. i just never liked it. in the film, the main character, bob, is trying to overcome crippling ocd and becomes obsessed with his therapist, eventually going on vacation with his family. the movie is a kind of buddy comedy, starring bill murray. the main reason i never liked it is because it simply isn’t funny. that, however, doesn’t mean that the character is bad.

i do honestly think there is some merit to the movie’s portrayal of ocd. murray’s character shows diverse symptoms, such as doing things in particular orders, repeating mantras, and obsessing over thoughts, or rumination. i appreciate that the writers seem to have put in at least a bit of research rather than just making him super clean or something. the problem, though, is that bob’s disorder is played for laughs more than anything, or to infantilize him. it sort of feeds into the narrative of the disorder just consisting of “little quirks”.

emma pillsbury from glee

Glee: Emma Pillsbury's Parents Come to Town | TVLine

i grew up with this show and am ashamed (kinda) to say that it holds a special place in my heart and always will. one of my favorite side characters, emma, is known to suffer from ocd. it’s talked about frequently throughout the show, sometimes as a punchline, and sometimes as a serious issue.

what i love about emma is that she made me feel so seen as a kid, when i saw her doing things like wearing gloves to eat or wiping down her grapes. these were things that i did, and seeing a grown-up do them on tv made me feel like maybe i wasn’t so weird after all. while the show is infamous for dealing with serious issues poorly, i think ocd is an exception. yes, people occasionally poke fun at emma, but no character is safe on this show. i love that other characters who care for her push her to seek treatment and are patient with her. those who want to be an ally to people with ocd, or any mental disorder, really, could take notes from how john stamos’s character treats her in particular.


well, that’s all i’ve got for this post. if you stuck around until the end, thank you, and see you next time!


Author: Emma Stapp

☆writer, musician, 4w5, jason bateman enthusiast! i love studying pop culture, movies, shows, and music☆