Compulsive Hoarding-The Causes and “Cures”

Most psychiatrists believe that hoarding is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, although others believe it could be a manifestation of depression, social anxiety, or even a bi-polar disorder. It is believed that at least half of one percent of the entire population suffers from compulsive hoarding, but because many consider it somewhat shameful it is doubtful that all cases are either known about or diagnosed. Although most compulsive hoarders began hoarding in childhood, it probably was not bad enough to bring attention until they reached adulthood. It appears that compulsive hoarding runs in families, although some feel that it is more a learned behavior within families in that if the children know nothing different, they may grow to feel it is normal. The overwhelming majority of people who are compulsive hoarders have difficulty seeing how bad the problem is, even when there is a family member who is extremely bothered by the hoarding.

What are the Causes of Hoarding?

Although compulsive hoarding has a wide variety of causal factors, those who suffer from the disease generally have difficulty in processing information as in deciding what they should do with possessions or determining what is valuable and what is not. They may even have difficulty remembering where there things are, and feel in some way that if everything is in sight they will always know where it is. Often, compulsive hoarders have very strong emotions regarding their possessions, and feel a stronger attachment to their possessions than other people. The compulsive hoarder may also feel true distress regarding getting rid of their possessions. He or she may also see something they want, and feel a high degree of anxiety and frustration until they have acquired the object. There is little distinction as to whether the hoarded items are necessary or not, it is simply a matter of having them.

Treatment of Hoarding

Although there is no cure for compulsive hoarding there are some treatments which can allow those with the disease to more effectively manage the symptoms. Some compulsive hoarders have had good results when taking a prescribed antidepressant which increases the serotonin levels in their brain, although those who have other manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disease will likely not have noticeable results.

A type of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy has been successful in some compulsive hoarding cases; the therapist actually visits the person’s home and helps him or her learn how to make the right decisions about their possessions. They talk about the possessions and how the person feels about them-as well as how they feel about getting rid of them. This type of therapy can give the therapist a much clearer view of the underlying causes of a specific case of compulsive hoarding.

Some Suggestions for Hoarders

Psychiatrists suggest you not ask yourself whether or not you can use a particular object, but whether you actually will use it. In general, if you haven’t used an item in over a year, it is highly unlikely you will ever use it. When attempting to get rid of items, don’t make more than three piles, or it becomes overwhelming. Make one pile to keep, one to donate to your favorite charity, and one pile to throw away, and don’t over think the process. Try to understand your fears of getting rid of things, then recognize when those fears are not rational. Overcoming hoarding is a process, and will not happen quickly, so you will need to focus on your small victories rather than looking at the entire process which can be too overwhelming. Choose an amount of time each day you will devote to getting rid of items which you do not need, then no matter whether it is five minutes or an hour, do it each and every day without fail. Finally, know when you are unable to handle the problem on your own and need to ask for help. Remember that serious mental health issues require professional treatment, and don’t be embarrassed about seeking that treatment.

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