Hoarding Disorder – Fact File

There is a difference between Hoarding and Collecting, yet we often hear the word Hoarding being used out of context… This post aims to give information regarding hoarding disorders, helping individuals seek help and understand their disorder, or to help others gain knowledge about the mental health condition.

What Is The Difference Between Hoarding and Collecting?

There are many people who collect items. I like to collect dream catchers; I do not have hundreds, but I like to buy a new one each time I go abroad. There are people out there who collect stamps, coins, postcards and books… When collecting items, they are usually kept in a very organised manner, making them easy to access. I have my dream catchers hung up on a wall in my bedroom and across the ceiling, people who collect stamps may keep them in folders, people who collect books may have organised bookshelves or boxes. When someone hoards items, they tend to be very unorganised, in fact, they become clutter. The piles of items often stop the individual from accessing certain parts of their home and it is extremely difficult to find specific items.

The main difference between collecting and hoarding is that collecting items do not have a distressing impact on individuals day-to-day life.

How Common Is Hoarding?

It is believed that between 2-6% of adults in the United States and Europe have symptoms of Hoarding Disorder.
Hoarding can affect both men and women however it seems to affect more men than women despite a higher amount of women being used in clinical samples.

Hoarding can affect people at any age, though it is most common in people over the ages of 55.
It has been suggested that despite hoarding problems emerging in mid-late teens, it starts to interfere with the individual’s life in their mid 20’s and becomes a significant problem in their 30’s. It is believed to increase with severity with every decade of life.

Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder:

There are various symptoms of hoarding disorder to look out for and the condition may affect people in different ways.

  • Hoarding a range of items or a certain category of items in a chaotic manner, these may be of little or no monetary value.
  • Common items that are hoarded include newspapers, magazines and books, clothes, letters, junk-mail, containers, plastic bags, boxes, household supplies or even animals. A new item that is becoming increasingly hoarded is data! Online data, external hard drives etc.
  • Finding it hard to discard or part with the items, regardless of their value.
  • Being unable to access certain areas in their home.
  • Showing signs of distress due to the clutter.
  • Not hoarding items as a result of another mental health condition.
  • Reacting negatively when people suggest, or try to remove any of the items.
  • Relationships being affected by the individual’s behaviours.

Causes of Hoarding Disorder:

Similar to many other mental health disorders, there is no definitive cause of Hoarding Disorder, although there are some risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.

Personality – Having certain personality traits such as perfectionism and/or worrying.

A Family History of the Disorder – If there are other members in your family who have had the disorder, you may be at more risk of developing it for yourself. Especially if it is immediate family (such as parents, siblings or grandparents)

Stressful Life Events – Experiencing stressful or traumatic life events such as divorce, the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, or losing a job.

Many elderly people have turned to hoarding after losing their spouse, leaving them feeling lonely. There are many young adults who experience hoarding after going through a traumatic event as a child.

However, there does not have to be a distinct reason behind developing the disorder.

Treatments for Hoarding Disorder:

Treating Hoarding Disorder can be difficult as only 15% of those with the disorder, recognise their behaviour as being irrational.
In order for the person to be diagnosed with the disorder, they will have to go through a psychological evaluation. This will include being asked questions in regards to their mental health and wellbeing as well as asking about their habit of acquiring and saving items, leading into a discussion about hoarding. Sometimes they may seek permission from the individual to reach out to their friends and family for further information. By speaking to friends and family they can gather a bigger picture of the individual’s situation not only from their point of view but the point of view of those close to them.

In many cases, the primary source of treatment for hoarding disorder is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other forms of talking therapies. These aim to examine the individuals thought and beliefs as to why they are hoarding the items and they try to understand why the individual finds it so difficult to part with the items. These therapies will also help the individual to find better coping mechanisms when experiencing difficult feelings. These can be one to one sessions or group sessions, both of which have been found successful in treating hoarding disorder.

If the hoarding appears to be the result of another mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or OCD, then the individual will also receive the relevant treatment for those disorders. Such as anti-depressants.

Sources: 

NHS – Hoarding Disorder Overview

Mind Charity – Hoarding Disorder

American Psychiatric Association – What Is Hoarding?

OCD.uk – Hoarding Disorder

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