What is Hoarding Disorder?
Hoarding disorder is a condition in which an individual struggles with giving up items and belongings (even those that are of little to no value). The individual may become upset or anxious at the idea of getting rid of an item because they feel a need to hang onto them. This can lead to an extreme build-up of items that aren’t needed or serve no purpose.
Hoarding may be related to relevant compulsions including the urge to excessively shop for items, the urge to amass free items, and the urge to seek out one-of-a-kind items. Oftentimes, the individual with hoarding disorder may believe that the items they acquire are special or unique when they are, in reality, entirely commonplace.
Hoarding disorder can have a serious impact the lives of individuals with the condition and his or her family. This disorder can be detrimental to numerous aspects of the individual’s life, including his or her:
- Social life
- Emotional health
- Physical health
- Financial health
Signs of Hoarding
Hoarding can be recognized in a variety of signs and symptoms, including:
- Extreme difficulty with discarding belongings
- Extreme distress and anxiety when trying to get rid of items
- Trouble deciding where to store items
- Trouble organizing or decluttering items
- Indecision, perfectionism, and procrastination towards organizing items
- Embarrassment or distress over accumulated belongings
- Mistrust of other people touching belongings
- Obsessive thoughts and behaviors (i.e. distress over accidentally throwing something away or running out of something)
- Purchasing or accumulating more items, even when there isn’t enough space for them
Signs of hoarding may also be seen in changes in the individual’s quality of life, including:
- Cramped living quarters due to accumulated belongings
- Neglected social connections and communication
- Tension between family members and/or a partner
- Financial complications
- Health risks posed by the amassed items
Hoarding may cause or be accompanied by extreme stress, anxiety, and/or depression. These conditions may be exacerbated if hoarding disorder goes untreated.
How is Hoarding Disorder Treated?
The most difficult aspect of hoarding disorder is reaching the point where the suffering individual seeks treatment. People with hoarding disorder often don’t recognize their problem and may refuse to seek treatment.
Once the individual is open to treatment, the main option is therapy. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat hoarding disorder and reduce its negative impact. Cognitive behavioral therapy for hoarding disorder may involve identifying the thoughts, ideas, and habits that lead to hoarding, then replacing them with new thoughts and ideas. Anxiety and compulsion management can help improve decision-making and organization skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also hone in on social isolation and work to encourage social relationships.
In the treatment of hoarding disorder, help with decluttering and organizing the home may be included. In these circumstances, a therapist or professional organizer may come to the home and provide help through the process of discarding items that are unneeded.
When hoarding disorder is accompanied by anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, medications may be prescribed in addition to therapy.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.