Help for hoarders on the horizon


In Spring of 2013, hoarding will be added to a new spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It will be among the anxiety disorders listed, which include social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. Each disorder will have specific criteria and treatment recommendations.

Proper diagnosis and quick interventions

“The value of having proper diagnostic criteria is quicker diagnosis and treatment,” explained Dr. Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. Changes to the DSM should also encourage more research.

About 5-7 million Americans struggle with hoarding. The typical hoarder is a woman over age 50, single or divorced, who shops compulsively and fills her house with the things she buys. The hoarder can remain a secret as long as no one comes to the house. But usually some kind of emergency will bring strangers in, and the problem is revealed.

Impulse to hoard may come from underlying stress

Many doctors believe hoarding impulses come from underlying causes, which are usually not addressed in the quick-fix television shows that have become so popular. “Hoarders often suffer from depression and will internalize their anguish, even from people who know them well,” said psychologist Peggy McMahon. “Some researchers feel there is a connection but the link is uncertain.”

Safety and refuge found in the clutter

One of her patients, Marian Howard, is a good example. As a young girl, Howard was beaten by her father and started hoarding as a way to protect herself. “When I got my own bedroom at age 12, you could hardly open the door to get in,” she recalled. “But I knew I could burrow into the clutter, like an animal burrowing for safety.”

Breaking the cycle

Howard lost her husband and almost lost her relationship with her children as a result of her inability to control her impulse to shop and hoard. “I have a hard time getting rid of anything, even empty boxes,” said the lifelong hoarder. “But I want to live healthy now.” The changes to the DSM could provide appropriate support to her and help her get out of the hoarding cycle.

Source: Dallas Morning News

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