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

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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!

More by this author

Kathleen Lum

Freelance Writer

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