Imagine being so worried about germs that you feel compelled to wash your hands dozens of times a day, or so concerned about giving the correct change that you count the coins over and over before you give them to the cashier. That is the sort of thing that happens to those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), an illness that afflicts almost five million Americans.
CBS News 48 Hours takes a look at this strange malady. You'll meet men and women who must battle their obsession every minute of every day. "Imagine yourself having some kind of feeling that comes over you," says one sufferer. "Just imagine the feeling's overwhelming, makes you panicked; you're just terrified."
Among the unforgettable people you'll meet on this week's show:
Howie Mandel: the comedian and talk show host who has been fighting a fear of germs all his life. As host of a daily talk show, he is forced to greet strangers all the time. This creates problems, especially when the guests have just been sick, as happened recently when actress Carmen Electra appeared on the show. (Howie decided to forego the usual host-guest kiss.) Howie deals with his obsession without psychological help. He has a special guest house in his backyard, to which he repairs when his wife or children are sick. But Howie says he is content: "I couldn't be happier. I'm probably the most happy neurotic person in the world."
Jeremy Lyons, a 16-year-old tenth grader from Milwaukee who is so terrified of germs that he takes three-hour showers. In December, he enrolled at Rogers Memorial Hospital, which has a specialized program to treat OCD. His treatments include drugs as well as behavior therapy to "immunize" him to the situations he fears most. Slowly, Jeremy gets better.
Mary Ellen Fridl, a 59-year-old widow and grandmother who has at least 125 obsessions. Among her many demons: contamination obsessions, washing compulsions, religious obsessions, and fear that she hasn't given the correct change. After enrolling in Rogers and undergoing drug treatment and five months of behavior therapy, she says she is improving.
David, a 25-year-old with an especially crippling case of OCD. Because of his fears, David has stayed in a bathroom all the time, for the past four months. He is so afraid of contamination, he won't even open the door. A renowned expert on OCD, Dr. Michael Jenike, tries to help David, who has had OCD since he was 8 or 9 years old. Will David escape from the prison of hs own fears?
Andrew Hasse, a nine-year-old from Minnesota who contracted OCD after coming down with strep throat. Although the connection is not fully understood, it seems that in some cases, the bug that causes strep can also trigger OCD. This is what happened to Andrew, who became convinced that his house had become contaminated with lead. But with behavior therapy and drugs, Andrew is able to keep his condition under control, and lead a normal life.
Aired: 25 Feb 1999