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What is hoarding disorder?

14 November 2022

By Jasmine Sillence

Definition and symptoms 

According to the NHS: ‘A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. The items can be of little or no monetary value.’

The NHS website also provides a list of symptoms of hoarding disorder: 

  • Keep or collect items that may have little or no monetary value, such as junk mail and carrier bags, or items they intend to reuse or repair
  • Find it hard to categorise or organise items
  • Have difficulty making decisions
  • Struggle to manage everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills
  • Become extremely attached to items, refusing to let anyone touch or borrow them have poor relationships with family or friends

The disorder has been included in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) only recently -or in other words, defined as a mental health condition. It was believed to be a symptom of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) meaning the research surrounding hoarding disorder has been limited. 

Why is hoarding an issue?

There are lots of different things people may hoard including animals, books, clothes, food newspapers and magazines. Possessions and items can accumulate, causing fire hazards and personal hygiene problems while affecting a person’s relationships and work. 

Hoarding disorder is often interconnected with other mental health conditions. For example, anxiety and depression. This is true of many mental health conditions. Those with hoarding disorder may have impacted cognitive functioning and show difficulties with memory, decision making and information processing. It really is something that can affect all aspects of a person’s life. This is why it’s so important hoarding disorder is not simply characterised as laziness.

What causes hoarding?

The triggers and causes of hoarding disorder are complex. Trauma, abuse, deprivation and anxiety are issues often involved. There has also been research carried out into whether genetic factors may play a part.  

mental-health-services

Why is treating or managing hoarding disorder so challenging?

Hoarding disorder is poorly understood. And this can mean even the professionals can struggle to know how to help someone who has a diagnosis of this mental health condition. Practical help is available for those with hoarding disorder, but this does not tackle the underlying issue – the cause of hoarding disorder. Unless this is faced, the disorder can only be managed, rather than treated. 

And this is assuming a person can get a diagnosis and referral. Some people with hoarding disorder have poor insight – they are unaware there is a real issue to be tackled. They may not even know that their behaviours can constitute a mental health problem. Being taken seriously is another challenge, as is having the motivation to push for a diagnosis and referral, which can be lengthy. Due to the severe staffing and funding issues faced by the NHS, this is especially acute at the moment. This has impacted the help available to everyone.

Clearly, there are problems on both the patient side of things as well as the professional. One thing we can do though is help to encourage and support understanding about hoarding disorder, by spreading awareness in an attempt to change the way society views the condition, which could play a significant part in helping those with hoarding disorder.

You may be wondering what led me to discover more about hoarding disorder. Well, it’s the topic I’ve chosen for my EPQ. An EPQ, an Extended Project Qualification, is a fairly extensive research task. You have the option of producing an artefact, a 1000-word essay as an accompaniment, or a 5000-word essay. I have chosen the essay task, and this article is my current understanding of the basics of hoarding disorder, something I believe everybody should know about. 

If you have a moment, to aid me with my EPQ, I would be grateful if you could fill out this short survey about hoarding disorder. 

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