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Mental health professionals treating hoarding as mental disorder


By Joe Beck

Mental health professionals are about to formally recognize hoarding as a distinct mental disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be published this spring.

Jeff Szymanski, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation, said Tuesday the impending change is based on years of research and the experiences of therapists who have been treating patients for the affliction. The DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is widely considered the most authoritative book for understanding mental disorders and potential treatments.

Szymanski estimated five to seven million people in the United States are hoarders, and more of them are coming to the attention of the rest of the public.

"Fire marshals are a great example because people who hoard in many instances hoard until their homes become fire hazards," Szymanski said.

Neighbors complain to authorities and landlords try to evict hoarders because they see a safety hazard to their property, Szymanski said. Complaints and pressure from outsiders are often the only way to persuade hoarders to get help, he added.

"Those who hoard typically don't seek treatment on their own," Szymanski said.

People should not confuse hoarders with pack rats and collectors whose tendency toward untidiness is a more manageable and less troubling personal trait, Szymanski said.

"Collectors have a lot of stuff, but collectors have their stuff organized," he said, adding, "pack rats may have cluttered households, but they use their possessions the way they were intended."

A pack rat may have a cluttered kitchen counter, but it's still recognizable as a counter and used for that purpose. But a hoarder may end up sleeping on a couch because the bed is already occupied by too many objects, Szymanski said.

"It's just the amount of clutter they have," he said. "It's impairing their functioning. It's interfering with their ability to use space around their home like they would like to do."

Szymanski said researchers and hoarding therapists are spearheading about 75 task forces around the country aimed at educating the public about hoarding. The task forces and more information about hoarding are listed at the web site Helpforhoarding.org.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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