New research for hoarders warns of need for more psychiatric help

New research for hoarders warns of need for more psychiatric help

By Rachel O'Rourke

Hoarders require more psychiatric assistance, was the conclusion made by health experts and communities housing group Orbit after launching the UK’s first research into the condition.

Housing group Orbit, which helps elderly and vulnerable homeowners live independently, teamed up with Coventry University to conduct the research; the first study in the UK to look at hoarding as a growing problem and aiming to develop better ways for professionals to assist people suffering from the compulsive disorder.

According to the University of London’s institute of psychiatry, between 2% and 4% of the UK population is affected by a tendency to hoard belongings – and it seems as though that figure could be set to rise. 

Last week, The Guardian told the story of former-teacher, 63-year-old Arthur Porter whose hoarding was described as “a daily battle”.

In the piece Porter, who was aware of that his hoarding “had got out of control”, said: “It had got to the stage where I was almost living my life like someone in the Middle Ages. I knew things couldn’t go on as they were, but I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

After his faulty cooker risked causing a fire, Porter sought the help of Orbit’s Care and Repair service, which help him pay for home repairs, and clear the clutter he had accumulated over decades from his home.

"When I first went to visit Mr Porter he could hardly open the front door," Cath Sharman, deputy manager of Orbit told The Guardian.

"There were piles of stuff up to the ceiling in places. He would bring in shopping and forget he had bought it. Not just food, but electrical gadgets and books. The neighbours had put in an insurance claim and it turned out an overflow pipe was dripping down from one of the bedrooms he couldn't get into. He didn't have a workable kitchen and his health was suffering.”

"I've been in this job for 23 years, and it's more common now than it ever was before," said Kathie Martin, senior agency manager of Orbit. "We set up a specialist support service because with the number of cases we were seeing our arms just weren't big enough to cope."

Orbit’s experience says that the most severe cases of hoarding may be triggered by a traumatic experience such as a bereavement. Porter told reporters that the roots of his hoarding dated back to his childhood when his dad displayed the same behaviours and he later battled depression which went undiagnosed.

Council, charity and fire-service professionals have been offering their expertise as part of the ongoing research, and the next stage of the project will involve interviews with hoarders about their behaviour.

Darren Awang, senior lecturer in occupational therapy at the university's faculty of health and life sciences, told the newspaper that he hoped the research would uncover more about the issue as a problem now spreading nationally. 

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