• Stuart Large

I hoard, you hoard, we hoard

Well, the third one is unequivocally correct, however one and two are more hazy. This is because all of us have and do acquire things in some shape or form, at some time or another. So before we get into ‘who is’ and ‘who isn’t’ let’s consider the ‘what’.

Hoarding is defined ‘as the excessive acquisition of objects, persistent difficulty parting with possessions and the resultant build-up of clutter in the home’. Furthermore it’s thought to affect between 2.5-5 per cent of the UK population. 

First things first, let us acknowledge that ‘problem hoarding’ is a condition with a myriad of factors at the root cause. However, it does have one inextricable link to all other mental health conditions – it exists on a spectrum that makes diagnosis tricky. This points the light on why the amount of research being commissioned has increased over recent years.

One of those such research studies has been conducted by Jessica Barton, Trainee Research Psychologist at The Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training and Research. The survey called for anyone in the UK with a significant hoarding problem; with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD); or without mental health concerns (healthy control group) to respond. In my interview with her, I started by asking Jessica to help unravel the reason why people hoard and to explain the Final Common Pathways model.

'There are three different beliefs someone holds that can drive this behaviour. First is a belief about avoiding harm – that something awful will happen if I don’t acquire this object, next it’s a fear of material deprivation leading to someone feeling they are preventing being deprived at some stage in the future and thirdly that an attachment to possessions may take the place of relationships with people’. It’s the last of those that her work focuses on to try better understand parental bonds or ‘attachment styles’ in early years. 

The drivers from Jessica’s work showed those with Hoarding Disorder and OCD cited their experience of parenting as significantly less caring and emotionally comfortable compared to the healthy control group. The same two also expressed a childhood which was over-protective and more controlling than the other. Jessica goes on to explain ‘attachment security is important, but it’s a general vulnerability factor for mental health conditions, not just those with a hoarding problem. 

Hoarding is at times sensationalised in mainstream media so being shown footage of the devastating impact hoarding can have on a person’s home and family relationships could easily act as a barrier to sufferers seeking professional help, due to feelings of shame. Dr Lynne Drummond, known for her work on OCD has published case studies on how the problem spirals out of control: in one severe case, citing how an individual filled the house and garage with paperwork and newspapers to satisfy their anxiety of losing ‘vital information’.  

Despite the severity of the condition of hoarding, it is reassuring to hear about the support and awareness training available out there. Heather Matuozzo is the founder of Cloud’s End, a Community Interest Company, providing one-to-one support directly to clients locally in Solihull and importantly delivering awareness training to East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Councils. In our interview, she tells me:

Knowledge around hoarding behaviours is the key, as soon as you understand why the behaviours might be happening, I think you come along side the person, you are in their team’ and goes on to say ‘the methodology we use is supportive intervention which uses a multi-agency approach to assist them in tackling the problem.

Hoarding has been classified as a separate condition to that of OCD in recent years, despite having similar symptoms, so there are different pathways for support. If you know someone who thinks they might have a hoarding problem, you can get help and information from Cloud’s End or MIND.

Sussex NHS Commissioners Disability and Mental Health staff ambassador

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