What is hoarding and can Mental Health First Aid help?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes hoarding as the ‘persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value’[1]. Unlike other mental illnesses, family and friends will be more likely to be able to identify if someone is a hoarder due to the state of their home. Hoarders feel unable to throw away possessions which others would not consider to have any value, such as newspapers, magazines, plastic bags, and other household items. The idea of throwing these items away creates distress in hoarders, so as a result these possessions start to pile up. This behaviour often has detrimental effects on the other family members in the household. The lack of throwing possessions away causes distress to family members as homes can become crowded to the point where the build-up of items becomes so enormous that only narrow walkways remain, and this starts to seriously disturb people’s day-to-day lives.

Hoarding can often co-occur with other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and substance use disorders [2]. Mental Health First Aid can assist anyone who might be suffering from a mental health problem, so people who experience hoarding disorder would benefit greatly from receiving MHFA.

MHFA training teaches participants how to identify the signs that someone is developing a mental health problem such as hoarding, and how to start and carry out conversations to assist that person to seek appropriate professional help. While most people would be able to identify whether someone is likely to have a hoarding problem, most people are not well informed about other mental illnesses, or how to have a conversation with someone who might be experiencing a mental health problem.

MHFA doesn’t teach participants to diagnose a mental illness, and it is not a support group. Rather, it is a Nationally Recognised training and education program which teaches participants how to identify whether someone is suffering from a mental health condition.

If someone you know is suffering from hoarding, there are many resources on the internet to assist, as well as undertaking MHFA training to learn the skills and improve your knowledge on how to communicate with someone with a mental illness.

[1] https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics

[2] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/hoarding-disorder/what-is-hoarding-disorder

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