The science behind hoarding disorders has become more understood. My Mind News takes a look at the latest research findings.
What is a hoarding disorder?
Experts from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) have published new guidance to help doctors correctly diagnose hoarding disorder. But what exactly is hoarding disorder?
Being a hoarder is quite different from just having a slightly cluttered bedroom. Emotional attachments can steadily take over a person’s life and affect relationships with those they live with. But how can experts decide whether someone has a hoarding disorder or not?
Hoarding disorder involves clutter in the home environment taking over living spaces and excessive acquisition and difficulty discarding possessions, affecting an individual’s quality of life.
However, it typically comes to the fore only when patients seek support for other mental health or physical conditions and can act as a treatment barrier due to concerns about hygiene, safety, or access to the home.
People with hoarding disorder most commonly suffer from depression, while other comorbidities include Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What causes hoarding?
There are many reasons that a person might hoard, and it’s utterly unique to the individual. With that said, there are a few common reasons that a person might be a hoarder –
Mental health problems – While hoarding might seem relatively harmless on the surface, it can be a symptom of other disorders, such as anxiety and depression. In these cases, hoarding is usually the symptom but not the route of the problem.
Past trauma – It has also been linked to trauma or a stressful life event and is thought to be a way for the person to regain control over their life by hoarding items. It might also appear in people who have grown up in poverty.
Family history or habits – Experts believe hoarding may run in the family. It could be that the hoarder’s family has a history of one of the other underlying conditions – or it could simply be a habit that a person has grown up with.
How can you tell if someone has a hoarding disorder?
But how do mental health professionals tell if someone might have a hoarding problem? They may ask the patient the following questions to form a diagnosis.
- Does the person keep or collect items with no value (like junk mail or old carrier bags)?
- When they try and throw stuff away, do they move things from one pile to another?
- Does the idea of someone moving or throwing away their things make them panic?
- Does the person acquire a lot more stuff than they get rid of?
- Do they find it hard to categorize or organize things in the same way as other people?
- Are they so attached to items that they find it hard to lend or give away?
- Does the stuff in the person’s home affect the way they live? For example, do you have to move piles of things to be able to sit on the sofa or enter a room?
- Does the person find it hard to make decisions? Are they embarrassed to have people visit?
Hoarding disorder affects around 2% of the population but remains a largely misunderstood mental health condition. It was only added to the International Classification of Diseases in 2019, having previously been classified under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
What does this new guidance tell us about hoarding disorders?
Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the new guidance was written by Dr Sharon Morein and Dr Sanjiv Ahluwalia of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge, England, to help health professionals spot the signs of hoarding disorder and intervene.
Dr Morein, an Associate Professor in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and leader of the ARU Possessions and Hoarding Collective, told The Mix website,
“Labels can be very useful in the healthcare system and can be the first stage for people receiving the support they need. It is really important that doctors and other frontline healthcare professionals are aware that hoarding disorder is a diagnosable medical condition and that it is usually linked to other issues so that proper support can be offered.”
Dr Morein continues,
“Typically, hoarding disorder is something that sneaks up on people. It doesn’t happen overnight, and people don’t necessarily recognize they have a problem. One of the major difficulties with hoarding disorder is that sufferers often don’t seek help themselves, and it only presents itself to medical professionals alongside other issues. The sooner the problem is spotted, the sooner support can be provided.”
The ARU Possessions and Hoarding Collective is a group of academics and professionals aiming to improve our understanding of how people interact with their possessions. As part of its work, the Collective researches how hoarding can affect individuals and their families, as well as how service provision is currently delivered and how it can be improved.
The above questions are key to determining whether a person can be diagnosed as a hoarder and how that is affecting their lives and those around them.
To talk about the research and advice that has been drawn up, the ARU Possessions and Hoarding Collective is inviting all interested groups and individuals to attend an event in Cambridge to be held today (May 10th) as it aims to increase awareness and ultimately provide better support for all.
The event, which will feature expert speakers including Professor Nick Neave of Northumbria University, will explain more about the disorder and the latest support strategies and is aimed at service providers who help people with hoarding as part of their role, those affected by the hoarding behavior of others, as well as individuals who themselves are struggling with hoarding.
Do you suffer from a hoarding disorder? If so, have you sought help or support? Tell us more in the comments.