Expert teams needed to manage hoarding, which worsened during pandemic
A third of hoarders in the UK live in conditions which raise the risks of health and fire hazards, studies find
Crack teams are needed to tackle hoarding in the UK and prevent the fire and environmental risks that mounds of clutter in people’s homes pose, a new study shows. Hoarding is, however, a universal problem and has worsened worldwide during the pandemic, research in the US and Italy has found.
An estimated 2% to 5% of adults have hoarding disorder, which impairs the quality of their lives and typically worsens with time.
The lead researcher of the latest survey, health scientist Dr Sarah Hanson from the University of East Anglia, said: “People who have a hoarding disorder have trouble throwing things away. They collect and accumulate belongings and their living spaces become very unmanageable.
“It’s hard to know how many of us are hoarders because it’s so stigmatised and people with the disorder are likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed.
“We found that hoarding often presented alongside other support needs, for example substance misuse, trauma and depression,” she said. But it can also worsen depression and anxiety.
The research teams investigated the extent and type of hoarding, the challenges housing officers faced and how they could be better prepared to support hoarders.
Most hoarders lived alone (87%), about 60% in flats and nearly half (47%) had a vulnerability, mental health condition or disability, they found.
Just more than a third lived in conditions which raised the risk of an environmental health hazard or fire, increasing the burden on housing officers and emergency services.
Of 11 housing officers interviewed from Norwich City Council, each worked with up to 10 problematic hoarders.
It’s hard to know how many of us are hoarders because it’s so stigmatised.Dr Sarah Hanso
“But housing officers are not mental-health trained,” said Hanson, adding: “Dealing with the results of hoarding can be traumatising for the person who hoards and the hoarding behaviours usually reoccur.”
The team recommended housing officers get better training to support hoarders with mental health disorders and underlying trauma, or even train hoarding teams (think ghost busters, but for clutter) to help people with this behaviour.
“Hoarding teams or ‘hoarding champions’ to manage cases of hoarding could work really well,” Hanson said in the report, published in the journal Health and Social Care in the Community.
Another study, published last month, showed the risk of hoarding behaviours could be higher among people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Also conducted in the UK, it found almost 20% of people with ADHD “exhibited clinically significant levels of hoarding”, suggesting there could be a “hidden population” of adults battling this disorder.
The remaining 81% also displayed “greater hoarding severity”, but not to the extent that it compromised their lives, compared with the study’s control group.
Prior research focused on older women who identified themselves as hoarders, but in this study the average age was in the 30s and the number of men and women was roughly even. The 88 participants were recruited from an adult ADHD clinic for the study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Psychology professor and study leader Dr Sharon Morein, from Anglia Ruskin University, said overall, people diagnosed with ADHD had more chance of having hoarding symptoms.
“This is important because it demonstrates that hoarding doesn’t just affect people later in life,” she said, recommending people with ADHD are routinely assessed for hoarding disorder.
But what about the rest of us? The hoarding risk has risen during the pandemic; the alarm has sounded.
Now that the virus’s grip on our lives has loosened, maybe it’s time to let tidy-up ninja Marie Kondo and her decluttering sword (aka the KonMari method) back into our homes for a fresh start.