If you or a loved one has symptoms of hoarding, call your doctor. He or she may immediately refer you to a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist, with experience diagnosing and treating hoarding.
If you are calling on behalf of a friend or relative with symptoms, the mental health provider may ask to first meet alone with you to develop an approach for raising your concerns with your loved one. Many people with hoarding symptoms don't recognize that their behavior is problematic, and are not motivated to seek treatment. A mental health provider can help you prepare for a conversation in which you encourage your loved one to seek help.
In order to consider the possibility of seeking treatment, your loved one will likely need reassurance that no one is going to go into his or her house and start throwing things out.
The information below can help the person with hoarding symptoms prepare for the first appointment and learn what to expect from the mental health provider.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, and for how long. It will help the mental health provider to know what kinds of items you feel compelled to save and why.
- Write down key personal information, including traumatic events in your past, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
- Make a list of your medical information, including other physical or mental health conditions with which you've been diagnosed. Also write down the names of any medications or supplements you are taking.
- Take a trusted family member or friend along, if possible. It can be difficult to remember everything your mental health provider says, and a loved one can help remember the details. In addition, someone who has known you for a long time may be able to ask questions or share information with the mental health provider that you don't remember to bring up.
- Write down questions to ask your mental health provider in advance, so that you can make the most of your appointment.
For hoarding, some basic questions to ask your mental health provider include:
- Do you think my symptoms are cause for concern? Why?
- Do you think I need treatment?
- What do I stand to gain from treatment?
- What treatments are most likely to be effective?
- How much can I expect my symptoms to improve with treatment?
- How much time will it take before my symptoms begin to improve?
- How frequently will I need therapy sessions, and for how long?
- Are there medications that can help?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your mental health provider, don't hesitate to ask any other questions that may occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your mental health provider
The mental health provider is likely to ask you a number of questions and may also talk with your close friends and family members to gain an understanding of how hoarding is affecting your life. The mental health provider may ask:
- Do you avoid throwing things away because you believe you might need them later, or because they have emotional significance?
- How often do you decide to acquire or keep things you don't have space or use for?
- How would it make you feel if you had to discard some of your things?
- Does the clutter in your home keep you from using rooms for their intended purpose, such as cooking, washing dishes or taking a bath?
- Does clutter prevent you from inviting people to visit your home?
- How does clutter in your home affect your family members?
- Does it take you a long time to perform daily tasks because of clutter or because you feel a need to do things perfectly?
- Do you have so many pets that you can't care for them properly?
- Have others encouraged you to seek professional help?
- Do you have a first-degree relative — a parent or sibling — who is a pack rat?
- Are you currently being treated for any other medical conditions, including mental illness?
Because other mental health disorders often go hand in hand with hoarding, your mental health provider may also ask questions to see if you may have symptoms of depression, social phobia, anxiety or other problems.
May. 25, 2011
- Fact sheet: What is compulsive hoarding. International OCD Foundation. http://www.ocfoundation.org/uploadedFiles/Hoarding%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?n=3557. Accessed March 14, 2011.
- Sansone RA, et al. Hoarding: Obsessive symptom or syndrome? Psychiatry. 2010;7:24.
- Tolin DF. Challenges and advances in treating hoarding. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011. In press.
- Tolin DF. Understanding and treating hoarding: A biopsychosocial perspective. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011. In press.
- Saxena S. Recent advances in compulsive hoarding. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2008;10:297.
- Storch EA, et al. Compulsive hoarding in children. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011. In press.
- Tompkins MA. Working with families of people who hoard: A harm reduction approach. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011. In press.