Psychiatry Research Trust

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Psychiatry Research Trust,Institute Of Psychiatry
16 De Crespigny Park,London

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Hoarding Disorder research

Hoarding Disorder: Please help us understand its causes and develop better treatments 

Like most human behaviours, saving and collecting possessions can range from being totally normal to excessive or pathological.  Most children have collections at some point and approximately 30% of British adults define themselves as collectors. Hoarding and Compulsive Hoarding are some of the more commonly used terms to refer to an excessive and problematic form of ‘collectionism’. 

Problematic hoarding is highly prevalent (approximately 2-5% of the population – that is potentially over 1.2 million people in the UK alone) and, when severe, is associated with substantial disability and represents a great burden for the sufferers, their families and society. 

Recent research conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry and elsewhere has shown that in most cases, hoarding appears to be independent from other neurological and psychiatric disorders. This means that a large proportion of sufferers may remain undiagnosed and thus not receive adequate treatment. 

But all this may be about to change thanks to the inclusion of Hoarding Disorder as a new mental disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book that contains all officially recognised mental disorders. The DSM-5 is due to be published in 2013. 

Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder include a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions (regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions) due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding, resulting in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible. For example, some sufferers are unable to sleep in their bedroom or cook a hot meal in the kitchen. Symptoms may also be accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or even stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space. 

Whilst some hoarders have good insight into the problems caused by their behaviour, others are completely convinced that their situation is not problematic, despite evidence to the contrary. These sufferers are often reluctant to seek help for their problems, causing great distress to family members. Sometimes, when possessions and clutter spill over to communal areas, e.g. front and back gardens, neighbours may be affected too and councils may be forced to intervene. 

The hope is that the addition of this diagnosis in DSM-5 will increase public awareness, improve identification of cases, and stimulate both research and the development of specific treatments for this problem. It will also mean that sufferers should be able to receive help within the NHS. 

The causes of Hoarding Disorder are currently unknown and there is a need to conduct research of the highest quality to further our understanding of this puzzling condition. In addition, existing treatments are known to be largely inadequate; clearly, new treatments need to be developed and tested before they can be offered routinely within the NHS. Any donations, large or small, will enable researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry to conduct this important work.

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