Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Compulsive Hoarding, Part I

I just attended a day-long seminar put on by the Institute on Aging in San Francisco, called Clutter Addiction and Hoarding. This was a completely separate event from the Mental Health Association's annual Conference on Hoarding and Cluttering.

There were at least 200-300 people in attendance. That was the part that astounded me.

I'll be writing more in the next few weeks about the complex issue of Compulsive Hoarding and all the attention it's gotten in the last several months–special episodes on Oprah, Dr. Phil and all those organizing shows, some of which touch on the most severe cases only occasionally.

This issue has finally come "out of the closet" so to speak. Well it had to because the closet was full.

I had never known about hoarding personally while growing up, although my parents did help "clean" a friend's house after she had broken her wrist and ankle. They had described to me what they found. (Absolutely all the earmarks of a hoarder, as I now know.) Little trails through the house–the only place you could walk. Piles of papers and stuff. Present after present that had never been given away. Just another crazy social worker, I thought.

I've been studying the issue of hoarding ever since I joined the NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) in 2005. It was fascinating. I wanted to know more and certainly be "prepared" for when I might have a client in this situation. What have I learned? Oh, so much. And that it's hard to be truly prepared.

What I have learned is this: compulsive hoarding is as much a disease as alcoholism is. It's hard to understand, difficult to live with (or impossible) and there's no easy cure. That's what researchers are looking at now--how can people who have this issue be helped? What really is the problem? Is it in the brain? In the mind? In the heart? A combination of all these? I think yes.

What has become clear to me is not the answers, but the questions that now must be asked.

How do we help?

How do we fund this help?

How can we remain compassionate while looking for the answers and trying to help?

How do we get communities involved?

Since this is such a closeted illness, researchers are hard-pressed to give accurate numbers as to how many among us might have hoarding issues. One or two percent? Possibly 5%. That means in every large church group of 500 or more, there are 5 to 25 people who are living with this illness and maybe many more who are affected–children, relatives, friends, even pets.

In the next few installments, I will define Compulsive Hoarding, talk about the "what-not-to-dos" that well-meaning friends or loved ones might think is right. As well as give some resources for help. And probably come up with a few more questions. Maybe someone out there has some answers.

If you want more information right away, read "Buried in Treasures" (in the book list at the bottom) or visit the following websites. They have a tremendous amount of information about what this condition is, information to help you help yourself or a loved one, and links to more resources.

This is one iceberg that is just beginning to melt and we are feeling the affects of the flood.

Children of Hoarders
Squalor Survivors
Obsessive Compulsive Foundation Hoarding Website
National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization

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