Q: Is hoarding a sign of mental illness and can treatment help?
A: Yes, hoarding is a sign of mental illness (obsessive compulsive disorder, attachment disorder and depression). It is also associated with dementia and frequently affects the elderly. About one in 1000 people are affected, slightly more women than men, but it crosses all races and socioeconomic groups equally.
The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as the “excessive collection of items that have no value”. Newspapers, stacked from floor to ceiling, trash, food kept in containers for months or years and the inability to discard them. The collections usually represent health and safety hazards and hoarders may also neglect their own health and proper hygiene. The situation goes way beyond “pack rat” and helpful attempts to remove or clean the hoarder’s home are met with resistance and even belligerence. The mental illness allows them to remain in denial. Hoarders are attached to things, not people, and have limited insight into the problem and less desire to change it.
If you suspect that you may be becoming a hoarder, get help as soon as possible. For anyone trying to help a hoarder you must gain their trust first, be patient and have low and slow expectations for change.