Compulsive Hoarding Help and Guidance

This page is dedicated to questions and answers surrounding the distressing behaviour known as compulsive hoarding. (OCD Disorder) Here you will find answers to questions such as what is compulsive hoarding? As well as strategies to assist in overcoming and dealing with compulsive hoarding.

What is compulsive hoarding?

Compulsive hoarding (CH) is a recognisable mental health disorder, often referred to as compulsive hoarding syndrome or hoarding disorder. Compulsive hoarding (OCD symptoms) involves the obsessive and excessive collecting of items and materials, to such an extent that the behaviour can have a severe and often detrimental impact on the CH sufferer and their living conditions.

Is compulsive hoarding an illness?

Traditionally, compulsive hoarding has not been recognised as an illness in its own right and has usually been seen by clinicians as a symptom of the more widely known condition: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), otherwise known as Obsession Compulsion Disorder. The latest official position in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders publication (The DSM-IV) 1994 (text amendment in 2000) defines compulsive hoarding as a symptom of OCD. However, significantly, The DSM-IV does not define compulsive hoarding behaviour as part of the diagnostic criteria for OCD. It is widely recognised that compulsive hoarding will become classed as a separate disorder in the revision of the DSM (DSM-V) due to be published in 2013, rather than being a symptom of OCD.

How does compulsive hoarding syndrome manifest itself?

Compulsive hoarding often involves the over acquisition of items and materials that are either useless or have limited value. The hoarding becomes so excessive, so much so that the accumulation of such items can interfere with access to a property and movement around a property, including use of living areas, cooking and sleeping areas.

What dangers are there with compulsive hoarding?

Basically, compulsive hoarding is a behaviour where those affected hoard and stockpile so many things that they begin to overpower their property. For instance, building up towering piles of yellowing newspapers and junk in all corners of the living space. This debilitating condition can become extremely stressful causing severe worrying and anxiety for the sufferer as well as dangers related to tripping, falling, structural damage to the property; as well as health risks associated with poor hygiene, damp, bacteria and vermin.

Do compulsive hoarders always collect rubbish?

In many cases compulsive hoarders excessively collect items which are worthless and often unhygienic such as rubbish, old newspapers, etc. In this situation the hoarding can become chaotic and random. However, compulsive hoarding behaviour can occur with a more obsessively, clinical and perfectionist streak. This latter behaviour is usually connected to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and can involve the collection of strange items which are meticulously filed and ordered.

What causes compulsive hoarding?

It is not always certain what causes some people to become affected by compulsive hoarding. Human psychology is an extremely complex area. There is evidence to suggest that compulsive hoarding can be linked to inherited genetic traits and also learned behaviours (often from parents) or reaction to traumatic events (control, anxiety release). Some of the justification of obsessive hoarding can be that the things are useful, or will be useful in the future although rational analysis suggests otherwise. Other psychological explanations are wound up in primal identity issues such as possessiveness, status, security, anger or an inability to let go.

What is an example of compulsive hoarding?

Although compulsive hoarding often starts with low key hoarding and the collecting of materials, an example of a developed compulsive hoarding scenario is where a person has literally filled their property, perhaps up to 75 per cent of the property space, with piles of rubbish, uneaten food, books, plastic bags and similar junk to the point where the property is a health hazard, doors cannot be opened, access and movement is severely restricted.

Is help available?

Unfortunately simple solutions for compulsive hoarding are not available due to the complex nature of the condition. Also, the delivering of assistance can be difficult due to the inability of the sufferer to recognise their problem. However, intervention can help, and gradually, research into compulsion hoarding is revealing a greater awareness and understanding of this difficult condition. Increasingly, multi-agency approaches involving cognitive therapies and support can have very significant benefits.

Who to contact for compulsive hoarding treatment?

Tests and treatments are available for compulsive hoarders even at early stages of the development of the condition. If you have a loved one who you feel may be developing a compulsive hoarding disorder or who is in an advanced state of compulsive hoarding, you may wish to seek professional advice. Your GP or your local mental health services will provide professional advice. Successful treatment may involve the services of a professional therapist.

Are neighbours affected by compulsive hoarders?

Often compulsive hoarders are brought to the attention of the authorities due to the concerns of neighbours who may become alarmed about the health and safety risks involved for their neighbour, including risk of fire. If you have genuine concerns about the hoarding behaviour of a neighbour where there may be health dangers, then you may wish to report the behaviour to an appropriate authority such as environmental health or social services.

Can a house clearance help a compulsive hoarder?

While a house clearance for a property which is occupied by a compulsive hoarder is no substitute for a longer-term therapy for the condition itself, it can provide substantial relief for the sufferer and for carers and others affected by the behaviour of the sufferer. It can also be part of a wider recovery process, helping the compulsive hoarding sufferer lead a happier, healthier life.

Is early intervention useful for treating compulsive hoarding?

There is some evidence to suggest that due to the obsessive nature of compulsive hoarding early intervention can be helpful. The condition is best known to the public due to television programmes such as the BBC's A Life of Grime where sufferers are identified as often elderly and living alone and the problem has been allowed to get out of hand.

What similarities are there between compulsive hoarding and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Although there are general similarities in terms of the repetitive behaviour found in CH and OCD behaviours, the latter is characterised by repetitive obsessive thoughts. OCD can be characterised by the repetition of obsessive thoughts and any ritual actions from a variety of obsessive behaviours, including repetitive checking, obsession with hygiene, etc. In some cases OCD becomes recognised as a full scale personality disorder: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Compulsive hoarding is best understood as a distinct condition of its own which can also be described as extreme property cluttering or the incontrollable collecting of items.

An FAQ Guide to Compulsive Hoarding by Jeffrey Avery & Associates

This Compulsive Hoarding FAQ Guide is brought to you by Jeffrey Avery & Associates, a UK company which provides specialist clearance services for properties affected by compulsive hoarders. We provide compulsive hoarding clearance services as part of our overall range of speciality house clearance and probate services.

More information on compulsive hoarding: Wikipedia

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