Hoarding – What it is, and how to treat it

Hoarding is a disorder that comes under the heading of an OCD or an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The condition can be a mild one, or a chronic one, but often mild hoarding will lead on to the more chronic state. In its most chronic form, hoarding decimates the lives of those it affects. It turns its victims into recluses who shun the company of others for fear of the embarrassment they will experience if people should visit their homes and see the squalor in which they live; squalor that is self-generated but unavoidable because of their obsession.

OCDs force their victims to behave irrationally by making them carry out certain actions, such as repeated washing of hands, which are imagined by the sufferer to be unclean and unsanitary. OCDs, including hoarding, (which is now being recognized as a specific illness with specific remedies and treatments), often start in childhood, and it is important that parents should keep a watchful eye open for any such strange behaviour. The earlier a compulsive disorder is recognised, the easier it is to treat. However, having said that, hoarding, in the case of youngsters, starts as a mild condition, and may well therefore go unrecognised as such by the parents. As the child grows and enters adulthood, the compulsion will then manifest itself more openly, especially once the sufferer moves into their own living accommodation.

The actual cause of OCDs is unknown. Most specialists agree that there are a number of contributory factors including psychological events such a life style and stress, and the brain generated chemical serotonin. In a small number of cases genetics may be a consideration although in the majority of cases, this is not an issue.

What is hoarding and how to treat it

The psychology of OCDs is the most significant factor, but it is quite difficult for so called “normal” people to truly understand the power of a compulsive thought. From time to time we all harbour bad thoughts; sometimes they take the form of bad things happening to themselves or others, or sometimes they can simply be simply fanciful notions. In ordinary people, they are able to distance themselves from these thoughts; look at them and analyse them for what they are; spurious thoughts. They can then discard these thoughts and notions as common sense dictates. But for someone suffering from an OCD, it is not that simple. These thoughts are not mere fanciful notions, but are very strong compulsions that have to be taken seriously, and must be acted upon.

People who suffer from a chronic hoarding disorder are fully aware of their condition. They do not condone it, but they are powerless to ignore it. What happens is that the more that they try to suppress the thoughts and compulsions, the stronger they become. It is like a self fulfilling prophecy of doom.

It is virtually impossible for people suffering from chronic hoarding to heal themselves. However cures are not only possible, but with the right help, they are frequent and successful. The urge to hoard will never entirely disappear, but the way in which sufferers are able to think about the urges can be changed by a course of cognitive behaviour therapy. They can retrain their minds to recognise what the compulsion is and to give themselves options in how to deal with the compulsive thoughts, instead of blindly surrendering themselves to them.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, (CBT), has come a long way in the past couple of years and is now fully recognised for what it can do to help people to recover from several disorders. NICE, (the Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) recognises the importance of CBT and has produced guidelines for helping to diagnose and treat OCDs using CBT, and where appropriate recommends the use certain medication.

Compulsive hoarding ruins lives. Sufferer’s homes become totally overtaken by the useless clutter that is being hoarded, even to the extent where beds are no longer available for sleeping in because they are buried in clutter, and kitchens are similarly overtaken and are no longer able to be used for their primary function of preparing food. A chronic hoarder’s home becomes a dangerous place to inhabit both from a sanitary point of view, and from a safety point of view. The risk of fire is significantly enhanced by the amount, (often tons and tons), of papers and other flammables that are littered around the dwelling.

If you know of anybody that suffers from chronic hoarding, you should report their condition to the appropriate specialists who can be brought in to rehabilitate the sufferer. You can find plenty of help by going online and searching under “treatment for compulsive hoarding”.

By helping to put a hoarder in touch with an appropriate specialist, you are putting them on the right road for getting their lives back on track.