What follows is the best available information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. We pass it on as informal, non-medical description. Always speak to a specialist provider if you are concerned that you, or someone you know displays any worrying symptoms.
1… What is Compulsive Hoarding?
The outwards sign of hoarding is a growing accumulation of things the owner is unable to throw away. However, unlike a tidy collection of say music recordings a hoard is disorganized. The person may become angry if anyone tries to interfere.
This situation may concern the neighbours or someone else sharing the house. However, the hoarder themselves may be unaware of the problem. They may be unable to look after themselves properly, pay the bills or make repairs
2… What Sort of Things Do People Hoard?
Compulsive hoarders tend to keep things other people don’t want. They may accumulate used shopping bags, newspapers, old clothes etc. over many years. They may also pick items off the street or from community rubbish.
It’s important to remember these things are precious to them, although to us they may not seem worth keeping.
3… Could a Hoarder Otherwise Live a Normal Life?
The main difference is between collecting and hoarding. A collection of books for example is usually neatly displayed on shelves and may have real value.
Whereas a hoard is a disorganized jumble of worthless things, that spread through the house and even into the garden. This is however not a problem unless it disrupts their own or other people’s lives significantly.
4… Is Hoarding a Sickness or a Bad Habit?
Hoarding is a recognized medical disorder. However in some case it may be a symptom of one of these things:
a– A physical illness where the person is too tired to tidy things up
b– Dementia is which case they may be unable to organise themselves
c— Severe depression where the person cannot see the point of continuing
d– They could also be losing control through drug or alcohol misuse
e— Compulsive hoarding may be a sign of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
f— The person could have learning disorder, autism or related problems
g– The hoard may also be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder
5… However They May Also Have Hoarding Disorder
A person may have hoarding disorder if they display the symptoms we described at the beginning of this article, but do not have a diagnosis for any of the other conditions we just mentioned.
The indicators include a belief their ‘collection’ as they may call it has intrinsic value, although many of the items have vanished under a pile of junk. This is a relatively new condition and needs further research into the causes.
However, we do know it usually becomes evident when the person is in their fifties. They may also have previously appeared to be reclusive or a perfectionist. A major stress or life change may cause their behaviour to become more extreme.
6… Does That Mean Hoarding is Dangerous?
A hoard may not be dangerous in itself, but the consequences may be. The Royal College of Psychiatrists speaks of rodent and cockroach infestations, and the risk of flammable items catching fire in the disorganized chaos.
The person could become trapped, or the emergency services may be unable to enter. In an extreme case the affected person may not be able to purchase food or prepare it. So yes, compulsive hoarding can have dangerous consequences.
How to Get Help for a Family Member or Friend
Don’t be ashamed to tell anyone your special person has a problem. Tell the neighbours and ask them to keep an eye out. Speak to your own medical provider or the local social welfare.
Please don’t try to solve the problem on your own. You could drive your friend deeper into their isolation if you accidentally say the wrong thing.