Hoarding: Is It Normal Or A Serious Mental Disorder

Is hoarding a normal activity or a serious mental disorder much like obsessive compulsive behavior.

People with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of possessions. This results in clutter that disrupts their living and work spaces.

You may have seen reality TV shows about people who hoard mail, gadgets, cats, and even trash. Or, maybe for you, the reality is a little closer. It could be a neighbor or a family member.

When people aren’t able to throw things away, piles can grow to the ceiling. These piles can make it impossible to use bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens.

The piles may fall over, trap, and injure people. They can catch on fire. Cluttered homes and yards may attract pests. Neighbors may call the police. Parents may lose custody of children. It’s a mess.

 

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Hoarding: Why Do People Do It?

People don’t choose to be hoarders. And they aren’t being sloppy or lazy. “This is a very real mental disorder,” says hoarding disorder expert Dr. David F. Tolin of Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. “It is important to recognize that people with hoarding disorder have lost control of their decision-making abilities.”

Tolin’s NIH-funded research suggests why it’s hard for people with this disorder to part with items, even things with no real-world value. He found that brain activity was different between people with hoarding disorder and healthy people.

Doctors don’t know what causes hoarding disorder. There’s no X-ray or blood test for a diagnosis. Instead, doctors assess how well people are functioning in their lives.

Hoarding disorder can start during a person’s teens or later. It may grow more severe over the decades.

There’s no effective medication for hoarding disorder, although studies are in progress. Tolin says, “Right now, cognitive behavioral therapy is the only evidence-based treatment we have for hoarding.” This is a type of talk therapy that teaches people how to change their thinking patterns and react differently to situations.

 

Hoarding: Possible Therapies

Tolin’s team hopes to improve cognitive behavioral therapy to help people to discard items. Furthermore, they’re analyzing the brain activities of people before and after they’re successfully treated for hoarding disorder. If the research team can identify the biological mechanisms of successful treatments, they may be able to develop treatments that are even better.

Some people with hoarding disorder are helped by joining a support group with others who have the disorder. There are also organizing professionals who specialize in helping people get rid of clutter.

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