A mi­nor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion suf­fers from this ob­ses­sive dis­or­der – never be­ing able to throw any­thing away

The Sunday Independent - - HEALTH -

IT MAY start as in­no­cently as let­ting piles of clothes gather on a room cor­ner. Then it grows into pil­ing stacks of pa­per­work, old payslips, news­pa­pers, bags and plas­tic con­tain­ers – you just can­not throw it away or give it up.

In ex­treme cases of hoard­ing, parts of homes be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble be­cause of the clut­ter.

But what is hoard­ing? What is the fine line be­tween it and keep­ing sen­ti­men­tal ob­jects or sou­venirs? And does it have a link to men­tal health dis­or­ders?

Ac­cord­ing to clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Shai Fried­land, hoard­ing dis­or­der is clas­si­fied in the di­ag­nos­tic and statis­tic man­ual un­der ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive and re­lated dis­or­ders.

“Hoard­ing dis­or­der is clas­si­fied as an in­di­vid­ual hav­ing con­stant dif­fi­culty dis­card­ing or part­ing with their pos­ses­sions, re­gard­less of the ac­tual value of the pos­ses­sion.

“This in­di­vid­ual strug­gles due to their need to save or keep this item and due to their dis­tress linked with dis­card­ing this item,” he ex­plained. And with the great dif­fi­culty in dis­card­ing their pos­ses­sions, comes the ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the South African De­pres­sion and Anx­i­ety Group (Sadag), the most com­monly hoarded items in­clude news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, pa­per, plas­tic bags, card­board boxes, pho­to­graphs, house­hold sup­plies, food and cloth­ing.

Some hoard­ers even down­load soft­ware they do not need, cram­ming their com­puter’s mem­ory.

But, it is a rel­a­tively un­com­mon dis­or­der, with a world­wide preva­lence of about 2-5% of the adult pop­u­la­tion fall­ing into the cat­e­gory.

Fried­land said part of the dif­fi­culty in de­ter­min­ing the ex­act preva­lence is its co­mor­bid­ity with other men­tal dis­or­ders, par­tic­u­larly ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive dis­or­der.

Wilmi Hud­son­berg, spokesper­son for Pharma Dy­nam­ics – a gener­ics firm spe­cial­is­ing in treat­ments for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, among oth­ers – agreed that clut­ter played a role in our men­tal and emo­tional health.

“There is a sig­nif­i­cant body of ev­i­dence that proves the link be­tween de­pres­sion and a clut­tered en­vi­ron­ment. One study, con­ducted by re­searchers at the Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity’s Neu­ro­science In­sti­tute, found that when your en­vi­ron­ment is clut­tered, the chaos re­stricts your abil­ity to fo­cus. The clut­ter lim­its your abil­ity to process in­for­ma­tion,” Hud­son­berg said.

“How­ever, if you are suf­fer­ing from chronic de­pres­sion, even the most mun­dane tasks can seem in­sur­mount­able, let alone the mam­moth task of un­clut­ter­ing your home or of­fice,” she added.

Fried­land ex­plained that, of­ten, peo­ple who hoard have a ge­netic or bi­o­log­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­ity to hoard­ing, or may have learnt from a young age to keep pos­ses­sions.

“They of­ten mis­at­tribute the mean­ing or value that they as­sign to cer­tain pos­ses­sions and their ac­quir­ing and saving be­hav­iours are of­ten then re­in­forced by pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive emo­tions as­so­ci­ated with these be­hav­iours. For ex­am­ple, feel­ing dis­tressed when they need to dis­card or feel­ing re­lieved when they get to keep an item or ac­quire a new item.”

The good news, how­ever, is that hoard­ing dis­or­der can be dealt with and a suf­ferer can get it un­der con­trol.

Fried­land said: “The treat­ment for hoard­ing dis­or­der will of­ten be a com­bi­na­tion of med­i­ca­tion, usu­ally se­lec­tive sero­tonin re­up­take in­hibitors and psy­chother­apy in the form of cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy or ac­cep­tance and com­mit­ment ther­apy.”

But Hud­son­berg added that get­ting help from loved ones to ini­tially help clear the clut­ter while one seeks med­i­cal treat­ment could also help those af­fected to see the pos­i­tive ef­fects of clean and open spa­ces.

“By creat­ing a sooth­ing home and or­gan­ised work en­vi­ron­ment, your body au­to­mat­i­cally re­leases dopamine, sero­tonin, mela­tonin and oxy­tocin – all the feel-good hor­mones that heal de­pres­sion,” she added.

Fried­man said the fol­low­ing signs could sug­gest some­one may be a hoarder:

Com­pul­sive ac­quir­ing of goods, an in­di­vid­ual not dis­card­ing any of their pos­ses­sions,

The in­di­vid­ual shows great signs of dis­tress when asked to stop ac­quir­ing items or to dis­card items, and

A per­son hav­ing ac­tive liv­ing ar­eas clut­tered to such a point that such area can­not be used for its in­tended pur­poses.

For free tele­phonic coun­selling, call 0800 21 22 23 or send and SMS to 31393 and a coun­sel­lor will call you back.


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