An estimated one in 100 adults and one in 200 children live with OCD, a condition 16-year-old Noemi Tsai understands personally and aims to combat for others.
“OCD is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which means that there are obsessions or unwanted thoughts/urges and compulsions which are things you do to get rid of intrusive thoughts,” the Highland Park High School student explained. “OCD can be about anything, and what makes it a disorder is that it interferes with everyday functioning.”
While pursuing her Girl Scout Gold Award, Tsai wanted a project where she could advocate for those who struggle with OCD.
She reached out to OCD Texas, a nonprofit advocacy organization, and landed her role as co-chair of the Dallas One Million Steps for OCD Walk, held Sept. 30 at Reverchon Park on the Katy Trail.
Tsai’s passion for advocacy comes from her struggles with OCD.
“I was diagnosed with OCD in eighth grade, but have struggled with it since elementary school,” she explained. “It got really bad when I went back to school in the pandemic. My parents noticed that I stayed up really late and would walk around my room for hours. They didn’t know it, but I was doing compulsions in my room.”
The National Institute of Mental Health defines compulsions as “repetitive behaviors a person feels the urge to do, often in response to an obsession” such as excessive handwashing or repeatedly double-checking to ensure something is locked or turned off. See nimh.nih.gov.
“One of the things I was doing was checking the light switches because I was afraid of starting a fire,” Tsai said. “It took a few months, but we finally figured out it was OCD, and I started getting help for it.”
Tsai aims to raise awareness about the disorder and help those struggling access resources while decreasing the misinformation and stigma surrounding the illness.
In addition to co-chairing the recent walk, she has raised more than $5,000 for OCD advocacy and participated in walks in Boston and Houston.
Tsai gave a talk at a National Alliance on Mental Illness conference about pediatric OCD and made several presentations to the staff of Children’s Health about OCD, treatment, and her experiences. She also is creating a resource packet.
“Over the last three years, sometimes my OCD is louder and sometimes softer,” she said. “I have been fortunate to access therapy when I needed it, and currently, I’m in a pretty good place.”