Home' Christchurch Mail : October 4th 2012 Contents 9
CHRISTCHURCH MAIL, OCTOBER 4, 2012
Hoarding: a mental illness
can attract vermin.
By ABBIE NAPIER
THE HOARDING compulsion stems
from a variety of causes and tends to
become apparent later in life.
Some studies have concluded the com-
pulsion is present in 2 to 5 per cent of
adults to varying degrees.
In the past hoarding has been linked
to obsessive compulsive disorder. But
more recent studies have shown only
about 17 per cent of hoarders have this
condition. The latest diagnosis bases
hoarding on prior conditions such as
anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic
Age Concern community health officer
Kerry Howley said these conditions can
all contribute to a feeling of social iso-
lation, leading people to surround them-
selves with possessions.
Often these people don't have very
good relationships in their lives. They
can become estranged from their family,
and are very isolated, even fearful of
I have two cases at the moment
where they won't even let me inside the
front door,'' she said. They're afraid I
will go inside and say it all has to go.''
The mental illness could eventually
lead to serious physical health problems.
Ms Howley had seen one woman become
overwhelmed by rats in her home, living
among her possessions.
The rats ended up biting her legs,
which got infected,'' she said. She tried
feeding them but that just made it
Is it possible to die from hoarding?
It's hard to say -- there are certainly
health problems which occur because of
hoarding which may lead to death.''
Elderly hoarders are also more likely
to have serious falls in their home and
become sick from their own accumulated
faeces and the sheer volume of dust and
mould in the house.
Emergency staff at risk
HOARDERS' HOMES are a serious
risk to emergency services.
They are much more likely to fall
victim to a house fire -- because of
poorly maintained wiring and the
sheer volume of flammable material
in the home. In Australia, emergency
services keep a database of known
hoarders. If a firefighter rushes into a
hoarder's home, it is possible they
will be easily overwhelmed by smoke
or have their exit blocked by burning
clutter, in some cases up to the
ceiling. Christchurch agencies agree
it is important for such a database to
be compiled here to prevent such an
occurrence. More than 25 per cent of
hoarders whose homes catch fire will
die in the fire.
Where to go for help
IF YOU are concerned about a
neighbour or family member, contact
Age Concern office 366 0903, the
city council 941 8999, the SPCA
349 7057, or the Mental Health
Foundation at mentalhealth.org.nz.
De-cluttering a sensitive task
CLEANING UP a hoarder's home is not as easy as
ripping everything out and carting it off to the
Without a city council order, concerned people
can only enter with the hoarder's permission, and
even then the problem needs to be dealt with
sympathetically and respectfully.
Professional organiser Wendy Davie, pictured
right, has come across about a dozen hoarders in
She said stripping a hoarder's home without
their permission had resulted in suicides.
If you go in and take everything away, you're
stripping them of their identity and their dignity
really,'' she said. They identify so strongly with
their possessions, it's about the worst thing you
Mrs Davies often gets calls for help from family
members. She thinks the solution lies in working
with the hoarder over a period of time, reducing
the stress on the individual and setting them up
for long term recovery.
Otherwise, in a few months they'll be back to
where they were, there's no doubt about it.''
She can spend up to six months working with a
hoarder on a weekly basis. She helps them sort
the items in one room into categories -- boxes,
plastic bags, bottle tops and clothes.
Then she has a discussion with the hoarder
about a possible use for one category of items, for
example, recycling empty bottles or donating
It often helped to have a relative or neighbour to
provide emotional support.
Ideally, funding would be found to pay for a
mental health worker to help the person through
Social worker Marty Leith said he could often
refer hoarders to agencies such as the Salvation
Army and the Red Cross, which could help make
the house more liveable.
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