What started as an idea from a Facebook group led two sophomores to form a new organization at the University: the OCD Support Group at UNC.
In the summer of 2020, Maya Tadross came across a national Facebook page for people to discuss their experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. She soon discovered that a group like that did not exist at UNC, and was inspired to start one.
That's when she was connected with fellow student Abigail Earley, who became interested in forming a support group because of the limited resources for students with OCD.
“We’re not professionals, so we were like, ‘What’s the next best thing?’ And that would be a support group where we can help people get the resources they do need," Earley said.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tadross said people with OCD related to contamination have faced additional challenges, making it even more important for a support group to be formed.
“I’ve heard from some people who said they never used to experience obsessions around contamination before and the pandemic sparked that new theme in their OCD,” she said. “Also, for some people who are predisposed to OCD, the pandemic was the stressor that triggered full-blown OCD, so that’s been pretty difficult for people.”
With these motivations in mind, the two started an online group in August and began holding small meetings and educational sessions. By December, they had a listserv, started a Facebook group and were recognized as an official organization by the University.
Today, the group holds weekly meetings over Zoom to have discussion sessions, play games, socialize and host educational speakers. Earley said the group has approximately 30 members and widely diverse membership.
“It ranges from people who have just been diagnosed for a few months to people who have been diagnosed for many years,” she said. “And then there are some people who are afraid to talk about it and have only told the group, as well as people who are completely open about it, so it’s a really wide range.”
Jon Abramowitz, a professor in the department of psychology & neuroscience and the group's adviser, said support groups like this one allow people to communicate and share in each other’s experiences.
“Support groups generally are terrific because they do give people an opportunity to come together, to compare notes, to feel like they are not alone,” he said. “Hopefully to talk with each other about effective coping strategies and treatments and new information that they’ve learned.”
Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said support groups such as Tadross and Earley’s are an important piece of mental health treatment.
“Peer support groups, such as the OCD Support Group at UNC, are an important component of well-rounded mental health care,” O’Barr said in a statement. “Research shows that groups have a positive impact by helping students feel connected to others with similar life experiences and by providing valuable support networks as students navigate challenges in their lives.”
CAPS offers group and individual therapy. UNC also has an outpatient clinic dedicated to providing treatment for stress and anxiety disorders, run by Abramowitz.
As the group has grown and continued to have discussions, Earley feels that members have become more comfortable talking about their experiences with OCD.
“I’m always kind of floored by people’s bravery,” she said. “I think it's really cool to make a space for that, because then outside of the group, they can hopefully continue to go out in their lives with that bravery.”
The group does not just aim to support one another, but it is also working to educate people not affected by OCD. The group is planning on creating an education video, talking about the misconceptions surrounding it.
“It’s not like everyone has a little bit of OCD — it’s not arranging your markers, it’s not those apps that are advertised on Instagram, it’s not glamorous and it’s always there, so education is a really big thing,” Earley said. “Having more allies and fostering a community that knows about OCD would be really cool.”
Moving ahead, Tadross and Earley's group hopes to eventually meet in-person. They are also looking to become involved in external projects related to OCD such as fundraising for OCD awareness and writing letters to legislators making mental health policies.
In the meantime, the OCD Support Group hopes to continue growing its membership and supporting students with OCD at the University.
“We hope the group can spread to other people with OCD and they can join and feel less alone,” Tadross said. “Everyone is empathetic and so understanding, it’s definitely a very nice, very good community to be a part of.”
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