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Battling your demons: Hoarders clean house

Therapy helps hoarders take control of their lives again
Therapy helps hoarders take control of their lives again

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The pandemic has brought to light many mental health issues. One that it exacerbated: hoarding. It reinforced some beliefs about the need to save items.

For millions, it’s more than just buying toilet paper and Clorox. For many, it’s a disorder that began in childhood and went undiagnosed for years, and then later in life, took control forbidding its victims from parting with possessions. Now a new therapy is helping these patients regain control of their lives. Ivanhoe has the details.

Ri Parrish is one of 19 million Americans diagnosed with hoarding disorder.

“It makes you feel a little immobile,” said Parrish.

Getting a divorce and coming out as transgender spiked Parrish’s anxiety, kicking her disorder into overdrive.

“You just feel like there’s, there’s no hope,” explained Parrish.

“Their experience of this is so distressing when they do try to discard items that they just simply feel like they cannot,” stated Catherine Ayers, a psychiatrist with UC San Diego Health.

That’s why professors at UC San Diego created discarding exposure therapy. Patients work through their items while keeping a journal. During an in-home session, Parrish and her therapist, Phillip Salas, talk through discarding items.

“A majority of them are not easy because they either go back to a relationship or they go back to a good time or a bad time,” said Parrish.

Most hoarders are dealing with other mental disorders. Fifty percent have a major depressive disorder and 48% have either anxiety or social phobia. So, therapists need to treat the entire person.

“It’s the only mental health condition besides dementia that gets worse with age,” shared Ayers.

Parrish is making progress. Tackling her demons, one row, one box, one item … at a time.

“I know long-term, everything’s going to get better for me,” smiled Parrish.

Most people with hoarding disorder have a first-degree relative with the disorder. The average age of a hoarder is 50 years old. But signs begin to appear during the teen years. For example, they get upset when their items are discarded. And although it’s not curable, it is treatable.

If you have a hoarder in your family, it’s important not to take charge and start cleaning up or throwing out items for them. It will lead to a strained relationship, a lack of trust and people being more resistant to therapy.