Hoarding is a recognised mental health disorder which can be very distressing not just for the sufferer but for their families and people close to them as well. It is thought that as many as 1.5% of the population experiences this disorder which makes it just as common as other mental health conditions like OCD, Bipolar and Schizophrenia.
It is also a condition which is very misunderstood.
Hoarding is a discarding disorder. It can impact on a person’s ability to function appropriately or independently. One thing we do understand is that sufferers derive a sense of safety and security from their possessions, and that people who hoard are therefore change averse and very uncomfortable with any disturbance of their routine or environment. They simply cannot bear to lose or be parted from their possessions, because of the emotional significance the hoarder has placed on them.
Hoarders often also experience loneliness and isolation because of their behaviour. It can create a huge risk (physically, mentally and emotionally) to sufferers and people close to them (including in some cases, neighbours). Hoarders will very often also be suffering with depression and other mental health problems, such as complex or unresolved grief, PTSD, or even learning disabilities.
There are different reasons why people become hoarders.
- For some, the items take on an emotional significance – where the hoarder does not want to let go of the past, or a connection to an event or person.
- Sometimes its about deprivation – if the hoarder has experienced serious deprivation or loss they hold onto the things around them
- Sometimes their thinking is affected and they believe that by holding onto these items they are preventing harm or suffering to other people – this can also begin as a desire to be responsible and maybe recycle, but it gets out of control
Some people experience a combination of these factors, which coupled with depression can leave them feeling overwhelmed. Hoarders often feel a strong fear of loss or change, and they see the removal of their hoard as an absolute loss, one it is impossible to countenance. Their personality traits will include indecisiveness, procrastination, they are masters of Avoidance and often struggle to organise.
It’s a disorder that can produce great frustration – the hoarder sees their own behaviour as completely logical and normal, and they are frustrated with others telling them they cannot live in this way. Family and friends will often be unable to understand the behaviour at all, and be frustrated at the way the hoarder is acting. Frustration can boil over into anger, anger leads to discord, which leads to isolation and so on……
There are 6 criteria which are required for a diagnosis of Hoarding Disorder.
Briefly, these are:
- A persistent difficulty in discarding things, regardless of the value of the items
- Experiencing emotional or psychological distress at the thought of having to discard them
- Possessions accumulate until living conditions are affected
- Significant psychological or emotional distress or impairment in work or social function is present
- The hoarding is not attributable to any other reason or cause
- If there are any other symptoms of mental illness
If you are concerned about these criteria, always contact your GP for advice before taking any other steps.
People with a hoarding disorder can be very resistant to the idea of being “helped”. It is usually a family member who will in the first instance be the one to take steps to resolve the hoarding. Current types of available treatment range from individual therapy to family or couples therapy. Finding a support group (for the hoarder and maybe even for the relatives) provides mutual support and can decrease the sense of isolation. There is also the practical approach of clearing out the hoard – but this can be highly traumatic if done without any therapeutic input.
Because hoarding is a mental health disorder, simply removing the clutter or possessions may not solve the problem, as the drive to find safety or security will still be there. It will be important to meet the emotional needs of the sufferer to prevent the behaviour recurring or escalating.