Hoarding – when does it become a disorder?
The phenomenon of hoarding as distinct from collecting has become a topic for debate and for research by psychologists as well as having its own section as a disorder on the NHS website.
It is a popular assumption that women are more likely to be hoarders than men but so far there has been little evidence from research to confirm this.
What has been suggested, however, is that males and females consume in different ways with women more likely to be seen as compulsive shoppers and collectors of clutter. On the other hand, there is also a suggestion that this conclusion is the result of gender stereotyping rather than a real difference.
Research has shown that hoarding tends to intensify with age, although it is arguable whether this is so much a disorder as a desire to keep hold of items that are treasured as mementos and souvenirs as well as records and heirlooms to pass on to the generations that follow.
A new study carried out in Brazil and published in Psychiatry Research has found that when it comes to pets collectors of large numbers of animals are most likely to be women and the phenomenon was most likely to be found among elderly, single women.
When does hoarding become classifiable as a disorder?
According to the NHS, a hoarding disorder is “where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner”.
It becomes a problem when it interferes with everyday living and starts to affect a person’s quality of life.
People who are hoarders are more likely to live alone and perhaps have had a childhood deprived of either possessions or family support.
Hoarding can also be a symptom of a mental health issue such as depression, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or even Schizophrenia.
It is the nature of what is hoarded and how it is organised that distinguishes it from a collection since hoarded items generally are disorganised and of little value while the collector is likely to be interested in something specific and to keep the collection in an ordered way.
Hoarding disorder becomes a problem when it takes over a person’s life to such an extent that they cannot easily move around their home and becomes a health risk, perhaps also personal hygiene and relationships with others start to suffer.
According to the NHS if you suspect someone has the condition you should try to persuade them to see their GP, who can refer them to a practitioner of cognitive behaviour therapy. This may include sessions conducted in their home and the purpose is to help them improve their organisational skills as well as their motivation.
Occasionally, if the GP suspects depression they may also prescribe a course of anti-depressants.