By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
According to experts people who are compulsive hoarders are ill with a serious mental disorder and need help. Hoarding is affecting between 400,000 and 1.1 million Australians, a conference in Sydney heard this week, and can affect more than just elderly people living alone. Yet it is only now gaining acceptance as a clinical condition with its inclusion this year in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
It is characterized by excessive collecting and an extreme inability to discard worthless objects. Compulsive hoarders often live in squalor and risk disease, injury, fires and homelessness, and their over-attachment to things can compromise their relationships, clinical psychologist Dr Christopher Mogan says. An estimated one in four people in Melbourne who die in house fires are hoarders.
“To throw something away is to throw away part of themselves...it’s a very pervasive disease that's hard for the non-hoarder to grasp,” he told a conference in Sydney yesterday. The two-day forum, dubbed Pathways Through the Maze National Hoarding and Squalor conference, attracted 135 experts from Australia, the UK and the US.
According to Dr Mogan, compulsive hoarding disorder is five times more common than schizophrenia and twice as common as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is already the fourth most common mental disorder ... it's really a sleeping giant.”
“It does manifest itself in the older age group, but it's a chronic condition that starts at a very young age – as young as 10 or 12, and it gets worse during the 20s,” he said. “But most people don't get treated until they are over 50. It’s a chronic and ongoing condition.”