Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Hoarding Behavior (Part 1)

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Hoarding, pt. 1Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, better known as OCD, is a mental health illness which affects between 1 and 2 percent of the population.

Defined, OCD is “an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.”

OCD can affect children, adolescents and adults.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes hoarding as the following: “the compulsive purchasing, acquiring, searching, and saving of items that have little or no value.” The site lists these items as being frequently hoarded:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • paper and plastic bags
  • cardboard boxes
  • photographs
  • household supplies
  • food
  • clothing

According to the ADAA, people can also hoard animals (e.g., collect an unusually high number of pets).

Just like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, hoarding behavior can be exhibited by children, teenagers, and adults.

What Are the Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

WebMD identifies obsessions and compulsions as the symptoms of OCD. Some of the typical obsessions are the fear of being contaminated by germs and a strong, uncontrollable desire for symmetry and perfection.

Compulsions experienced by many people with OCD are unusually frequent hand-washing, counting and repeated checking.

What Are the Symptoms of Hoarding?

The ADAA names the following characteristics of hoarders:

  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of other people touching items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects.

OCD Compared to Hoarding

While it is true that many people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder exhibit hoarding tendencies, the two illness do not always occur together. It is possible for a person to have OCD without displaying hoarding behaviors. It is also possible for someone to hoard items without being diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive.

A study from the University of British Columbia in Canada explores the differences between hoarders and obsessive-compulsives. For instance, the researchers in the study note that hoarding behavior without a diagnosis of OCD is possible, and that there are more people who can be categorized as hoarders than people who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

In the next part of this series on OCD and hoarding, we will look at the Canadian study in greater detail and find out how clinicians differentiate between the two illnesses.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mikedavis February 14, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Is it not classified as hoarding if the items have value? I’ve seen the reality show a number of times and have a hard time reconciling the differences between the types of hoarders they show. Many do save garbage but some seem to have cleaner homes but piles of useful stuff. You rarely heard of anyone with hoarding behaviors 30 years ago but now it’s everywhere. Is it on the rise or is it being over-diagnosed?

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Rich Presta February 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Interesting question…I think it has a lot to do with whether or not you put an unreasonable emotional value on the items rather than their actual monetary value. I don’t know if it’s over-diagnosed, but I think the rise in consumerism itself probably makes it far more likely than it may have been 30 years ago.

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