Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Hoarding disorders are much more common than most people think, and in most cases go unnoticed for too long. By the time a hoarding disorder is diagnosed, it has already diminished that individual’s quality of life far beyond anyone’s imagination.
While there’s no direct cure for a hoarding disorder, there are multiple ways to treat it and prevent the problem from getting any worse. Since it can affect your life in so many different ways, early detection and an early diagnosis go a long way in regaining your quality of life.
Of course, you have to understand what kind of help you need. You also need to know where to go to receive it, and what can go wrong if you don’t get proper help. Don’t worry; Mind Diagnostics has you covered!
So, where do you receive treatment for hoarding?
Treatment for a hoarding disorder is often administered by a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional with experience in the field. The process could also begin with a primary care physician or through an intervention held by their family or friends.
With that being said, you should always call your doctor whenever you notice any of the symptoms of hoarding — whether in yourself or in a loved one. They’ll be able to walk you through the next steps and direct you to a mental health professional they can vouch for.
As far as the type of treatment you will receive, it largely depends on what’s causing the hoarding disorder, how severe the disorder is, and the overall personality of the individual seeking help.
Below, we’ll discuss how hoarding is diagnosed, the different treatments available, why you need to seek help immediately, and how to prepare for the first appointment with a doctor or mental health professional.
How Is A Hoarding Disorder Diagnosed?
Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t officially seek help for a hoarding disorder. Instead, it’s often diagnosed in response to other mental disorders or developmental issues. For example, many people with a hoarding disorder also have depression or OCD.
It doesn’t matter if the hoarding disorder is detected by the individual, family member, a friend, or a doctor treating another illness. A mental health professional is needed for a proper diagnosis. It’s best to seek the help of a professional that has experience with hoarding disorders.
There are several things the mental health professional is tasked with assessing. The most important aspect of the process is the questions they ask the individual, but they’ll also have questions for the individual’s family members and friends.
In addition to questioning, the mental health professional generally asks to see pictures of the home. If needed, they might even physically enter the home to get an up-close view of what’s really going on behind closed doors.
At the end of the day, mental health professionals utilize a set of criteria set forth by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (DSM-5), released in 2013.
There are ultimately 7 criteria mental health professionals need to consider when evaluating the individual for a hoarding disorder. Let’s take a closer look at the criteria:
- Having a hard time throwing items away or letting go of items, no matter what their value is or whether they have room for it or not.
- The feeling that they need to save the items for future use and anxiety when they finally throw them out.
- Saving these items and not throwing them away leads to clutter inside the home, which obstructs the home’s normal flow. If the living areas aren’t cluttered, consider if it’s due to the family members cleaning up after the individual.
- The hoarding starts to affect other areas of the individual’s life, such as their living situation with others, their job, their mental health, or quality of life in general.
- The hoarding isn’t a result of a brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, or Prader-Willi syndrome.
- The hoarding isn’t a result of another mental disorder, such as OCD, depression, schizophrenia, neurocognitive disorder, or autism.
- The hoarding starts to affect the individual’s insight on life.
It’s important to note that hoarding resulting from a brain injury, disease, syndrome, or mental disorder is still technically considered a hoarding disorder.
The difference is how it’s treated. Since the hoarding symptoms could result from the other disorders, the main goal in that situation is to treat the other disorders. That’s why the diagnosis is an essential part of the healing process.
How Is A Hoarding Disorder Treated?
Researchers don’t yet know how to cure hoarding, largely because there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all cause or reason for it. With that being said, there are multiple ways to treat hoarding and prevent it from worsening in the future.
The most important form of treatment for hoarding disorders is psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy involving the individual and a mental health professional (therapist or psychologist). Up to this point, it’s been the most common help for hoarders.
The therapist is trained to teach you how to identify and challenge the thoughts that lead to hoarding, resist the urges experienced in a hoarding disorder, become more organized daily, make better decisions, slowly declutter the home, become more socially-active, improve your healthy habits, and minimize the bad habits.
In addition to hoarding therapy, the individual might need help decluttering the home, repairing the home, and getting the home back up to code — including fixing the appliances and utilities. At this point, the goal is to restore the individual’s quality of life one step at a time but ensuring they understand the changes they’re making in their life (and why they’re making those changes).
While there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat a hoarding disorder, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed when other mental disorders are present. The individual will also be left with some hoarding remedies to try on their own.
What Can Go Wrong With Hoarding?
One of the reasons it’s so important to detect a hoarding disorder as early as possible is that it only continues to worsen the longer it goes unnoticed or undealt with.
Unfortunately, most hoarders don’t fully understand what their behaviors and decisions are doing to their quality of life — as well as the lives of those around them.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common complications, struggles, difficulties, and challenges that come with hoarding — especially when the issue isn’t dealt with properly:
- Lack of room inside the home, broken appliances, utilities don’t work, odors, lack of hygiene, and sewage backups.
- Increased risk of falling inside the home due to clutter.
- Feeling lonely and disconnected from family or friends due to a lack of social activity.
- Multiple fire hazards inside the home that put your belongings and health at risk.
- Work performance starts to suffer, and it becomes hard to keep a job.
- Divorce, child separation, and even eviction in some scenarios.
As hard as it is to refrain from hoarding, it’s something that needs to stop immediately, and most people will need an extra boost when doing so. That’s where friends and family play a major role in preventing the issue from worsening over time.
Preparing For Your Appointment
Meeting with a therapist or psychologist (or even a primary care physician if it’s early in the process) is one of the most rewarding things someone can do when suffering from a hoarding disorder. It’s the first step in receiving the help they need.
Since most people won’t seek help on their own, it’s normally up to their family or friends to make the first move towards professional help. This might mean meeting with a doctor before approaching your loved one that’s suffering. The doctor can help you find the right way to approach them to increase their accepting help.
Whether you’re meeting with a mental health professional to seek help for someone else or doing it for yourself, there are some things you should do before your first appointment to ensure you’re prepared. Let’s take a quick look at some of the more important things:
- Keep a list of all the individual symptoms, including how long those symptoms have been an issue.
- Keep a list of the items the individual feels compelled to save or the items that make them anxious to throw out.
- Any challenges the individual is facing daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly as a result of the hoarding.
- Any past events (stressful, traumatic, injuries) that might play a role in the hoarding.
- Medications the individual is taking or has taken in the past.
- Any questions the individual or loved one has for the mental health professional.
Having this information prepared and ready before visiting with the mental health professional ensures you don’t forget anything important during the appointment. It also lets the mental health professional know you’re serious about receiving help.
Of course, not everyone knows they need help. If you’re struggling to determine whether you’re suffering from a hoarding disorder or if someone you love is, don’t panic. We’ve created an online hoarding test that does a majority of the hard work for you.
Designed to ask all the right questions, our hoarding test tells you whether or not you need to seek professional help with hoarding — that way, you receive the reassurance you need during this difficult time. It’s what Mind Diagnostics is dedicated to, and it’s what we pride ourselves in.
When you’re ready to seek hoarding help and take control of your life, feel free to contact us today or check out our wide range of online mental health tests.