Singapore, OCD capital of the World

From ‘Call for greater support as more suffer anxiety illness’, 3 Jan 2016, article by Janice Tai, Sunday Times

The number of adults being treated for obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) continues to rise, prompting experts to call for more support for sufferers and their families. Latest figures from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) show that 850 adults were treated for the condition as of November last year, up from 640 in 2010.

The first and only Singapore Mental Health Study released in 2011 found that Singapore was the OCD capital of the world, with higher rates of the illness compared with the United States or Europe.

…OCD is among the top three most common mental disorders here, with about 3 per cent of the population – or one in 33 people here – suffering from it, according to the Singapore Mental Health study by IMH. This is higher than the rate in the United States (2.3 per cent) or Europe (1.1 per cent).

Everyone of us knows someone with ‘OCD’ tendencies. The one who sharpens pencils down to the exact length, categorises socks by colour, spends half a day fussing over a particular stain on the furniture or arranges kitchen condiments by alphabetical order. Ever so often we frivolously label such ‘neat freaks’ as having ‘OCD’. At work, this OCD may even be viewed by some as a positive ethic, especially when the bosses need someone particularly good at number crunching and reviewing the finer details of important documents, someone who knows exactly how to get those annoying Microsoft Word bullets in one glorious line. They’re also known as ‘perfectionists’. They’re the corporate sheepdogs who get the flock in order. If you ever need someone to help pack for a long trip, you need someone like them on board so that your underpants do not spring out like Jack in the Box once you open your luggage.


We should be careful, however, not to glamourise a debilitating disease, that having OCD is ‘useful’ in certain lines of work, that you could become a private detective like US drama series character Monk. It also seems like almost every major celebrity or mad genius has some degree of OCD, from Nikola Tesla to Einstein, David Beckham and Justin Timberlake. Even poor Steve Jobs was speculated to have it. The way OCD is being portrayed outside of medical circles, having ritualistic, neurotic tendencies can be turned into a force for good, that it brings ‘method’ to the madness. It’s often downplayed as an incidental ‘quirk’, when in reality most of its victims lose their jobs, even their families, and are too precoccupied with their compulsions to discover the theory of relativity or invent stuff. Otherwise we’d have a whole bunch of OCD-afflicted scientists, mavericks and superstars in our midst, which is surely not the case. We have many depression sufferers too, but too few comedians to show for it.

They say ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’, which seems apt to describe OCD because sufferers have a ‘religious’ desire to purify their hands through washing, among other ‘rituals’ that occupy most of their lives. That Singapore has one of the highest rates in the world seems to be in line with the country’s reputation as a nanny-state, with our national obsession with order and cleanliness, whether it’s the physical filth on the streets or our control over ‘moral contamination’ imported from the ‘Western world’. You could even say having OCD is ‘part of our DNA’, that our picky nannying, constant surveillance, rules and regulations are key to the country’s security and success. Our PM has even acknowledged that the PAP is a paranoid government, and who is to doubt him? Even the professionals hypothesise that our ‘national psyche‘ and ‘kiasuism’ have something to do with it. I mean, this is a country where the future of a child is measured by a specific number on his PSLE result sheet.

OCD is not a celebrity disease, a quirky habit nor a corparate ‘skill’. It’s not a label that you throw at people loosely who’re just picky over the use of punctuation. It’s not an answer to the interview question ‘What’s your weakness?’ because you think OCD is a mask for ‘thoroughness’. It’s a soul-destroying affliction, and if nothing is done to curb the rise in not just OCD but other trends including self-harming and elderly suicide, bearing in mind we already have one of the most burnt out workers in the region, Singapore will be more than just the ‘OCD capital’ of the world.


One Response

  1. […] Everything Also Complain: Singapore, OCD capital of the World – Ray of Light: My views , my concerns; Vital for individual lonely seniors to receive […]

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