ENTERTAINMENT

Experts show how Lockdown made the symptoms of hoarding problems worse


Since the blockade began, Faye Dawson has been forced to sleep on her sofa and eat sandwiches and cold ready meals because her kitchen is inaccessible.

It's not that she has the decorators or that her house – a one bedroom apartment in a desirable part of Central London – is being repaired. The reason why Faye cannot access her bed or kitchen is because they are full of things.

Faye is one of the estimated 1.2 million people in the UK living with hoarding disorder, a little known but debilitating psychiatric illness. As she improved with treatment earlier this year, the insecurity of the blockade has increased her compulsion, and now she describes her once immaculate home as a "prison of disorder."

"Not only do I compulsively buy things that I don't need online, I also have to review everything I come into contact with before I throw them away," said Faye, 42, a massage therapist.

Since the beginning of the ban, Faye Dawson (pictured) has been forced to sleep on her sofa and eat sandwiches and cold ready meals because her kitchen is out of bounds

“Receipts, groceries, shoeboxes and even milk cartons have to be checked and checked again. Then they will be saved if I don't want to throw them away yet. Now I can't even put it in the microwave because the kitchen is so full.

"The only small room I can sleep in is a place on the sofa and the bathtub is filled with my clothes because there is no room for them in the bedroom."

Experts fear that there could be many like Faye, whose hoarding problem was exacerbated by the blockade.

Lockdown "definitely puts people back," says Jo Cooke, director of the Hoarding Disorders UK group. "We have online and phone support, and we have new people who go beyond what we normally see."

A hoarding disorder is much more than a few secretly messy, crowded closets. "To be diagnosed, it has to have a significant impact on your daily life," says Dr. Sophie Holmes, clinical psychologist at Sussex Partnership NHS Trust and author of the British Psychological Society's official guide to the disease.

"We are not talking about people who have a lot of books – they are people who use their bed to store their books and therefore cannot sleep in them anymore," she says.

The hoarding disorder, which was officially included in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases in 2018, is believed to be a coping mechanism for some, particularly a way to deal with stress, loss, and trauma.

Lynn Howells, 60, (pictured) a secretary administrator from Ascot, Berks, attributes her hoarding problems to the beginning of her boarding school at the age of 11

Lynn Howells, 60, (pictured) a secretary administrator from Ascot, Berks, attributes her hoarding problems to the beginning of her boarding school at the age of 11

"At the moment, people cannot grieve normally, whether they can't say goodbye to people in the hospital or have to wait for a funeral, which makes it much more difficult to let go," says Jo Cooke.

People with hoarding difficulties often spend a lot of time outside their home, at work, or while socializing so they don't have to face the problem – something that would not allow them to be blocked.

"You couldn't ignore it," says Dr. Holmes. "And if your usual coping strategy is to avoid something, there are likely to be other difficulties – either the hoarding itself can worsen or it can lead to an elevated mood."

A hoarding disorder can also have physical consequences – people who hoard have an increased risk of breathing problems such as asthma and emphysema, possibly due to the dust that can accumulate in their homes.

And, according to a study by US researchers in 2015, they can struggle with sleep problems, although it is not understood why.

Surprisingly, people with this disorder were unlikely to have toilet rolls and noodles in stock when the blockade began.

"The hoarding disorder is not motivated by an acquisitive, selfish attitude to life," says Dr. Stuart Whomsley, a NHS clinical psychologist in Northamptonshire. "Nevertheless, the word hoarding was used in connection with panic buying. If anything, this could have increased the shame people with this disorder already feel. "

He says it is common for hoarding to begin in childhood or early adolescence, to remain dormant for many years, "perhaps because you live with other people who restrict it," and then start again later in life.

Excessive attachment to objects can be exacerbated by grief, neglect, and miscarriage – indeed, any trauma, adds Jo Cooke. Faye's problem started when she was seven years old and her father left the family home. She says that by holding on to things she felt "safe".

Lynn Howells, 60, a secretary administrator from Ascot, Berks, attributes her hoarding problems to the beginning of her boarding school at the age of 11. Her parents worked abroad and, unlike many other boarding school students, she couldn't go home at the weekend.

"I felt very isolated," she says. "I think that's when I started surrounding myself with things."

“Most of my pocket money went into Donny Osmond posters, magazines, and books. At the end of the semester, the matron threw everything away because there was no space in my trunk. I was so frustrated and angry that I bit her hand. "

Faye (pictured) is one of the estimated 1.2 million people in the UK living with hoarding disorder, a little known but debilitating psychiatric illness

As she improved with treatment earlier this year, the insecurity of the blockade has increased her compulsion, and now she describes her once immaculate home as a "prison of disorder."

Faye (pictured) is one of the estimated 1.2 million people in the UK living with hoarding disorder, a little known but debilitating psychiatric illness. As she improved with treatment earlier this year, the insecurity of the blockade has increased her compulsion, and now she describes her once immaculate home as a "prison of disorder."

After starting to work in London, Lynn's hoarding escalated and when the problem was worst six years ago, she couldn't get into her kitchen because her possessions were stacked up to the ceiling and two bedrooms were not usable. They were full of things .

According to Dr. Whomsley psychiatrists often only notice a hoarding disorder when someone is seen for another condition.

There is significant overlap with depression, and around a third of people also suffer from OCD, which leads to obsessive-compulsive thoughts and repetitive behavior.

"There may be more people who overlap with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that Causes Impulsivity)," says Dr. Whomsley. "For these people, hoarding may have more to do with the inability to rationally organize belongings than to have too much."

Of course, the blockade affected not only those with a hoarding disorder, but also their families. "Suddenly, families were brought back to live in a hoarded environment, which was very difficult for everyone involved," says Jo Cooke.

In order to support people with hoarding disorder, it is important not to judge, says Dr. Holmes. "Nagging will only make people feel stressed if they don't already feel supported," she adds.

The answer is also not extremely clear – an unhelpful misunderstanding that is perpetuated by reality TV shows, adds Dr. Whomsley added. "You have to change the physical environment and the processes in the person's mind," he says.

Individual therapy to treat problems such as grief or trauma in the past can be helpful.

Lynn, who runs a support group for the housing association Silva Homes that she works for, says: “There is still a lot of stigma. But we are not lazy or dirty. We are normal people who try to deal with things in our own way. "

Additional reporting: NILUFER ATIK

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