Giving a Voice to the Silence offers positive angles to the issue that faces those with mental illness. Living with Schizo-Affective Disorder and being able to share my experiences with others, is the best way I know how to pay it forward. Life can be difficult, my goal is to bring a bit of hope to a place where many feel there is none.

Friday, March 14, 2008

When collecting becomes a problem

Do you collect something? Snow globes, bells, spoons, Santa clauses. Most have a favorite item that we enjoy having around and show them off to friends, often becoming conversation pieces. There are those, however, who take it to the extreme, to the point where their lives become endangered. They are called hoarders.

Actress Delta Burke is one; "collecting" antique furniture and porcelain dolls - enough to fill 27 storage units. Another case is an older gentleman who collected books, newspapers, plastic grocery bas and leisure magazines. These two people are not alone - they are part of some 3 to 6 million people in the US who live with the same condition.

Researchers are now just beginning to understand the complexity of those who are hoarders, by performing PET scans to measure their brain metabolism. Through these scans, they were found to have lowered activity in a certain part of the brain involved in decision-making, focused attention and regulation of emotion. It was found that compulsive hoarding is a distinctive diagnostic category - which could help when it comes to diagnosing and treating.

The implications of being a compulsive hoarder are the direct effect on their lives. They do not have the ability to stop collecting things, often believing they will be useful eventually. This can get to the point where the house becomes unlivable, no longer being able to cook, use a table, bed or in extreme cases walk through the house.

It is unfortunate that even with what seems a simple problem can lead to death. In one incident a 62 yr old woman suffocated under a pile of clothes. If this is not enough, another serious issue is vermin, in another incident involved rats eating through an oxygen line. The house was later declared a biohazard.

With each of these cases, families try to help the person, usually to no avail. Because of the hoarders belief, they do not see what they are living in and will deny what is around them.

So do we have the answer, not completely, but these issues have opened the eyes of local health departments to create task force dedicated to hoarding, working with the healthy department, fire, police, family services, meant healthy services and housing and public works coming together to help those with the compulsion.

For more information on hoarding, click here.