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The Horrors Of Hoarding

Flickr Photo/Robert Francis

With the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) coming out in May, hoarding is set to become an officially recognized mental disorder. To learn more about hoarding, Ross Reynolds talks to Karen Kent, clinical supervisor of behavioral health services at Evergreen Health.

Below are highlights from a Q-and-A with Kent, edited for clarity.

What is hoarding?

The difference between collecting and hoarding is that a hoarder is usually unable to use items, like the stove, or use a room, like the bathroom, because there are items stored in there. We can all collect things, but they are normally tucked away in a corner.

What are some of the things that cause people to hoard?

Right now in the DSM 4, it falls under obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCD). Research says OCD is the most common cause – the hoarder’s thoughts are so intense.

Are older adults more likely to hoard?

No. The disorder is well established in early adulthood, in the late 20s. The reason it comes to the view of community agencies is because hoarders start to get in trouble in other ways.

How do you treat someone who is hoarding?

There are two things to consider at first -- OCD isn’t the only diagnosis. Major loss or trauma may trigger people to keep items for comfort or protection. So somebody with OCD can be treated with SSRI antidepressants, but if it is a personality disorder, medication won’t help. In cases of childhood trauma, therapy helps to identify the cause of the behavior and adults may undergo cognitive behavioral treatment to change the way that they think about things.

Are there different levels of hoarding? Can you be very well organized and simply not have enough space for your stuff?

Sure, we had a male client who owned three homes and each home became filled. As one would fill up, they would move to another home. Other people will just start renting storage units.

What should someone do if they are worried about a friend or family member exhibiting hoarding tendencies?

Back off. Unless there are safety issues, the family should let it go. The state of Washington offers very strong individual rights. People have the right to live in filth.

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