Compulsive hoarding is a progressive disease. Nobody wakes up one morning and feels that their home is missing decades of outdated newspapers, or an array of broken electrical appliances. As a result, diagnosis is rarely simple or straightforward.
Typically, compulsive hoarding will not become apparent for several years. It may even take longer than this. Hoarders are prone to feeling a great deal of personal shame and embarrassment about their issue.
This means that they’ll do whatever it takes to hide it. It could take decades before the compulsion causes structural damage to a home, and it becomes apparent to the untrained eye that something is awry.
This can be the first warning sign of compulsive hoarding. If a previously gregarious friend or family member stops engaging, there will be a reason. Naturally, hoarding is not the first thing that anybody thinks of. It always remains a possibility, though.
Perhaps the biggest red flag of hoarding is somebody constantly declining visits to their home. If your loved one seems embarrassed by the idea of you entering their house, there will be a reason.
Sadly, the embarrassment that hoarders feel prevents them from asking for help themselves. It usually takes somebody else gaining access to the property by hook or by crook, and making a referral on the hoarder’s behalf. Continued near the bottom of this page.
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Denial is also a driving force in compulsive hoarders. Somebody that lives with the uncontrollable urge to hoard will never accept that their devotion to possessions is detrimental to their quality of life.
A compulsive hoarder will often minimise their issue. They will refer to their possessions as a collection, and claim that their home is far less cluttered than it really is.
They will also display anxiety at the idea of parting with possessions, describing them as essential. Compulsive hoarders will genuinely believe that plan to fix that broken toaster, read that decade-old magazine and learn to play that rusty saxophone.
Because of this, compulsive hoarders refuse to see that they have a problem. As they’re adamant that they are not unwell, they will not seek treatment. This brings us back to our initial barrier against diagnosis. Unless somebody else steps in and makes a referral, the hoarder will never receive the help they need.
It’s rare that compulsive hoarding is a solitary issue. In many cases, the behaviour is linked to other mental illness. This is referred to as co-morbidity among psychiatric circles.
Research is still ongoing into the conditions that accompany compulsive hoarding. However, common diagnoses include:
- Severe bouts of depression.
- General anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social phobias, leading to reluctance to engage with others.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Grooming disorders, such as trichotillomania, skin picking and nail biting.
Testing, and potential diagnosis, for each of these issues is highly recommended in a compulsive hoarder.