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Hoarding: A Classified Mental Health Disorder, Do You Need Help?

Hoarding: A Classified Mental Health Disorder, Do You Need Help?

I once knew someone very close to me who suffered from what we now know as the Hoarding Disorder. Had we known at the time that what he suffered from was well beyond his control, we might have been able to give him the help he needed. Sadly, we just thought he was being stubborn and eccentric.

Knowledge of hoarding was very minimal at one point, and was not considered a disorder of its own until the New DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition) came out.

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If someone you care about is showing signs of hoarding, let them know you understand. Embarrassment can play a key role in Hoarding Disorder, and feeling the need to hide from their family or loved ones will further increase symptoms.

Hoarding Warning Signs

From my experience, hoarding doesn’t happen over night. Subtle signs will start showing, and it’s these signs that need attention before the situation becomes larger and more impossible to control.

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  •  An unnatural attachment to items
  • Great discomfort in letting others handle or touch the items
  • Uncontrollable and helpless against collecting more and more items
  • Extreme uneasiness, reluctance and refusal to discard anything
  • Unorganized, incapable of knowing where to put their possessions
  • Embarrassment over their living situation
  • Secluding themselves from friends and family
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness
  • Eventually takes over their lives

Hoarding, Causes, and Consequences

Hoarding is a mental illness, and was categorized within the OCD spectrum. However, with the new DSM-V, hoarding has been classified in a spectrum of its own, and acknowledged as a disorder that requires treatment. Often, a childhood traumatic event is the stressor that contributes to hoarding. This, in a way, is therapeutic, as their possessions provide a feeling of safety. However, it simultaneously increases conflicted feelings. The disorder itself causes anxiety and depression.

Other Disorders

Hoarding is very closely associated with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. Psychologists say the behavior is a coping mechanism.

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Quality of Life

As you can imagine, this disorder can control one’s life, in the same manner as addiction. Their fix may provide momentary relief, yet creates a much greater problem in the long run. In time, the items they have accumulated become far larger themselves. The piles become higher, the pathways from one room to another become more narrow, and eventually, the clutter is in a way, swallowing them alive. The kitchen and bathrooms can become unstable due to the hoarding. Items collected can range from several old toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, used ziplock bags, old store coupons, newspapers and endless recycling to broken furniture, and everything in between. The individual is unable to organize their possessions. Piles will accumulate, and health becomes extremely compromised within the living conditions.

Chinese modern artist Song Dong came up with an amazing solution for his mother’s lifetime collection of possessions. He displayed all his childhood homes’ items that his mother had collected from shoes to cans and from broken kitchen utensils to a surplus of clothing hangers. This art installation is called ‘Waste Not’ and was displayed at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His mother Zhao Xiangyuan (1938–2009) was pleased to see her collection displayed with pride. Her hoarding was triggered by the death of her husband.

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Criteria for Diagnosis

  • Extreme difficulty discarding items
  • Severe anxiety in the idea of discarding items
  • Discarding of items contributes to feelings of major loss and mourning
  • Extreme anxiety with the thought of something accidentally landing in the trash
  • Regularly going through the trash to check
  • Severely interferes with regular life functions such as work, relationships, health
  • Very possessive of their possessions
  • The hoarding is not a result of another mental illness

There Is Help

With a new social understanding of the Hoarding Disorder, there are specialists that can help. They have seen it all, and understand the disorder, they can help those suffering under the weight of their possessions. There are organizations that can help remove the items for donation to others that would get good use from them. As well, there are organizations that can get the individual’s home back to a place where they can live, and not just exist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be successful in maintaining a clutter free mental state. And one very important factor to remember is that no one with this disorder is alone!

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Kathleen Lum

Freelance Writer

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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