Most people have a hobby that sometimes involves collecting items – from stamps to vintage cars. But is it possible for this enjoyable leisure activity to cross the line into one of hoarding?
One in 50 people in Singapore will display hoarding behaviour in their lifetime. This is according to a study conducted in 2010 by the Research Division of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Of the 6,616 respondents in that landmark piece of research, 0.8% had demonstrated hoarding behaviour in the previous 12 months.
Hoarders are people who find it extremely difficult to discard or part with possessions, regardless of their value or condition. This behaviour may result in negative emotional, physical, social, financial and legal implications for a hoarder and his or her loved ones.
Hoarders are different from other people in the quantity and quality of the collected items. Frequently, they could be considered mundane: newspapers, magazines, plastic bags, cardbox boxes, household supplies, food, clothing and even animals.
Dr Kelvin Ng, a consultant with the Department of Community Psychiatry at IMH, explains that the problem with hoarding is the emotional distress that hoarders feel when throwing out items, as it is akin to reliving a loss they had suffered. They may not be able to articulate why they feel the way they do, as the reason that triggered them to hoard in the first place may have been forgotten or buried deep in their minds.
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, a person is classified as a hoarder when he or she:
- Always finds it difficult to discard possessions, regardless of their value
- Is distressed when attempting to discard possessions
- Accumulates so much stuff that the rooms they are stored in cannot be used as they were originally intended
- Shows significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning
Causes of Hoarding Behaviour
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, says the causes of hoarding are unknown, but are likely due to a combination of factors that are biological, psychological or social in nature as well as a genetic predisposition to this type of behaviour.
The disorder can occur in people with mental illnesses, who exhibit the hoarding behaviour as part of a number of symptoms; and also, in persons without any pre-existing mental illness.
How You Can Help a Hoarder
Hoarding symptoms can present in as early as 11 years; the behaviour worsens between the ages of 41 and 70. If you realise that a friend or family member displays reluctance in throwing things way, watch to see if this person develops the disorder. You can approach the town council for assistance or call the Mental Health Helpline at 6389 2222 for advice.
According to Dr Lim, hoarders may not realise what they are doing and may refuse treatment. “Be firm and don’t play along with the hoarder as there are no limits nor passing phases to hoarding,” urges Dr Lim. “It is crucial to seek treatment from professionals.”