Hoarders may be mentally ill

Hoarding behaviour could be a potential sign of mental illness, two psychiatrists told The New Paper.

Dr Adrian Wang, a private practitioner at the Gleneagles Medical Centre, said such behaviour can be classified into three categories: mild, moderate and severe.

Mild hoarding behaviour may reflect an individual's personality traits such as being messy or over-sentimental.

The person is not suffering from any mental condition and is merely displaying a personal characteristic.

At the moderate level, hoarding behaviour is classified as compulsive hoarding, a sub-type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Such hoarders keep or collect useless items and fear discarding the items in the belief that they may be useful in the future.

Severe hoarders may be suffering from OCD or schizophrenia.

Their hoarding can cause problems in their personal or work life, such as by creating a fire hazard or by causing distress to their family members.

Dr Wang said: "If your neighbour is a hoarder, talk to their family members. Approach the problem in a helpful manner. Don't be confrontational or accusatory."

Psychiatrist Brian Yeo said there are two types of hoarders.

The first, who collect specific items, are known as collectors.

Hobby or obsession?

"There's usually no mental issue connected to them, unless they go overboard and their hobbies turn into obsessions."

But the second type of hoarder, who collects indiscriminately, may be doing so due to mental issues, although such behaviour is hard to explain.

"In extreme cases, these people can get so attached to these things that they will get overly upset if the things are removed," Dr Yeo said.

"This is the case even when they live in very cramped quarters as a result of their hoarding." People who hoard are usually not aware they have a problem, Dr Yeo noted.

Hence, they dislike people criticising them for being unhygienic and telling them to discard their items.

But the problem can be treated, he added.

Some drugs, like anti-depressants, can help these people keep calm and not get overly upset, even when their collections are removed.

This article was first published in The New Paper.