Based on some of his and his wife’s comments in the press, there’s been an ongoing conversation for years about David Beckham and OCD.
Widely regarded as one of the best and most accomplished English footballers (soccer players) to ever live, David Beckham has a lived a life in the spotlight. He’s won some of international soccer’s top honors, leading iconic teams Manchester United and Real Madrid to league championships and European glory. He’s even won the hearts of American soccer fans during a five-year stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy before announcing his retirement in 2013.
Married to designer and pop icon Victoria Beckham, David Beckham has further defined himself as a philanthropist and entrepreneur. It seems like the Beckhams are larger-than-life figures. Privately, though, both have talked openly about their battles with common mental conditions: Victoria with dyslexia and David with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Referring to OCD has become a sort of joke, a casual offhand remark to make whenever a person is judged to be too concerned about something. In this piece, we’ll consider David Beckham’s comments about his own mental health, whether his issues could be considered obsessive-compulsive disorder and the impact it makes on his following when he speaks about his struggles.
What David Beckham Has Said About OCD
In 2007, David Beckham brought unprecedented star power to the MLS — America’s top tier for professional soccer — but a year prior, he made headlines for a different reason.
In an interview with British TV channel ITV1 in 2006, Beckham admitted to struggling with obsessive behavior:
“I have got this disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere. I’ll go into a hotel room and before I can relax, I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer.”
His wife, Victoria, has backed up David’s claims in interviews of her own, saying, “He’s got that obsessive-compulsive thing where everything has to match. If you open our fridge, it’s all coordinated down either side. We’ve got three fridges — food in one, salad in another and drinks in the third. In the drinks one, everything is symmetrical. If there’s three cans, he’ll throw one away because it has to be an even number.”
But is this just a product of perfectionism in David Beckham’s personality, or does he have a diagnosable case of OCD?
What Makes OCD Diagnosable?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a clinically diagnosed condition. In order for a diagnosis of OCD to apply, a couple of criteria need to be met:
- A person’s behavior — not brought on by another mental illness or substance abuse disorder — has to be marked by obsessions or compulsions, or both.
- Obsessions and compulsions typically control the life of a person with OCD.
Obsessions are things that dominate a person’s thoughts. They’re often disturbing and intrusive thoughts. Compulsions are actions that may cause intense anxiety if not carried out in a satisfactory way or as many times as a person is accustomed to.
For example, a person with OCD may wash their hands multiple times every hour, turn light switches off repeatedly or make sure certain possessions are arranged very precisely. David Beckham has never said anything in public about his disorder being clinically diagnosed or the steps he takes to treat it. However, it does sound like some of the behaviors he cites as evidence of his OCD fit into the established symptoms of the condition.
OCD Versus “OCD”
One of the things that makes diagnosing obsessive-compulsive disorder complex is society’s habit of casually using “OCD” to refer to controlling behaviors that don’t meet the criteria. People who like their home tidy will say “I’m OCD about cleaning” when they may simply mean they dislike a mess.
This kind of flippant use of the term is damaging when there are real cases in which OCD takes over people’s lives. In these cases, it can take years of intensive therapy in order to live the semblance of a normal life.
David Beckham’s Disability
Without more information about how his condition manifests itself and how it has affected his life, it’s not clear whether David Beckham’s OCD is diagnosable. He seems to be a perfectionist, which doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder — cases of perfectionism do often overlap with OCD because of the way they can control a person’s life.
Unlike OCD, being a perfectionist isn’t a clinically diagnosable condition, at least not according to the DSM-5. They’re similar in many ways: They both cause anxiety when certain things aren’t done the right way, and both are rooted in a sense of needing to be in control.
As studies have shown, this isn’t uncommon with athletes. One study focusing on college athletes with OCD suggested that 5.2% of athletes could be struggling with the condition. That’s more than double the 2.3% rate in the general adult population.
This makes sense. After all, it takes a certain type of person to thrive in the competitive atmosphere of playing sports at the highest level. Those with the drive and motivation to succeed on the field often have stronger, more authoritative personalities off of it.
Why Talking About OCD — Severe or Not — Matters
People tend to trivialize OCD and dismiss it as a minor issue. It’s possible that David Beckham’s disability is relatively minor. But for some people, OCD is a major challenge. It may cause people to spend unhealthy amounts of time doing or thinking about certain things, taking away from their ability to be social and live a fulfilling life.
But when famous people with OCD talk about it, the public may be more likely to listen. When athletes, celebrities and public figures open up about being challenged by their own mental health, it slowly strips away the stigma and tells regular people it’s okay to seek help for any reason. We hope that Beckham’s openness can set an example for other famous OCD sufferers.
FHE Health and Treatment for OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder and conditions like it are often difficult to live with, but fortunately, they are treatable. With a consistent regimen of targeted therapies and/or medications, people with OCD can live a functional and fulfilling life.
If you or a loved one think you’re suffering from OCD, contact FHE Health and learn about your options for treatment.