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Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

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Stockpiling vs. Hoarding-- by Carol Mathews

 

Symptoms of depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders have emerged or worsened for many during the pandemic. This is no surprise to clinicians and scientists, who have been increasing worldwide access to mental health information and resources.

 

But what effect has the pandemic had on another common but often misunderstood problem – hoarding? The issue first received attention when people piled up paper towels, toilet tissue and hand sanitizer in their shopping carts at the start of the pandemic, leading some people to wonder whether they or a loved one were showing signs of hoarding disorder.

 

The short answer is: Probably not. Hoarding disorder goes beyond stockpiling in an emergency. I am a psychiatrist at the University of Florida and the director of the Center for OCD, Anxiety and Related Disorders. I also recently authored a book on hoarding disorder. My work focuses on identifying the causes of hoarding and its impact on individuals and on society.

 

Millions have hoarding disorder.

 

Although often sensationalized in the popular press as a behavioral oddity, hoarding disorder is a serious psychiatric illness affecting more than 13 million American adults. The cause is a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors. Doctors have known about hoarding for centuries, although the disorder was only formally recognized by the psychiatric community as a distinct psychiatric illness in 2013. Perhaps the most famous person who had a hoarding disorder was Howard Hughes.

 

The disorder is chronic and often lifelong. Although symptoms typically begin in adolescence, they usually do not become problematic until mid- to late adulthood. No one knows exactly why the disorder takes so long to manifest; perhaps as those with hoarding symptoms get older, their ability to decide what to discard becomes increasingly impaired. Or they might have fewer people around, like parents or spouses, to encourage them to get rid of unneeded items.

 

What is clear is that the increase in hoarding behaviors across the lifespan is not just a result of a lifetime’s accumulation of clutter. About 7% of adults over age 60 have problematic hoarding; that’s one in every 14 people.

 

And contrary to popular belief, the defining feature of hoarding disorder is not clutter. Instead, it is the difficulty in discarding what’s no longer needed. The most commonly hoarded items are everyday belongings: clothes, shoes, containers, tools and mechanical objects like nails and screws, household supplies, newspapers, mail and magazines. Those with the disorder report feeling indecision about what to discard, or fear the item will be needed in the future.

 

This trouble in disposing of items, even common items like junk mail, plastic bags and plastic containers, leads to the accumulation of clutter. Over time, living and work spaces become unusable. In addition to affecting living spaces, hoarding also causes problems between spouses, between parents and their children, and between friends. At its worst, hoarding can also impact one’s ability to work.

 

Hoarding disorder has a substantial impact on public health, including not only lost work days but also increased rates of medical illness, depression, anxiety, risk of suicide and cognitive impairment. As many as half of those suffering from hoarding disorder will also suffer from depression, and 30% or more will have an anxiety disorder.

 

Hoarding-related clutter in homes increases the risk of falls, pest or vermin infestation, unstable or unsafe living conditions and difficulty with self-care. It may stun you to know that up to 25% of deaths by house fire are due to hoarding.

 

Stockpiling and panic buying

 

What is the difference between stockpiling, panic buying and hoarding? Will someone who stockpiled toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the early days of the pandemic develop hoarding disorder? Or are they instead rational and thoughtful planners?

While these terms are often used interchangeably, stockpiling and panic buying are not symptoms of hoarding disorder. Nor are they necessarily the result of a psychiatric or psychological condition. Instead, stockpiling is a normal behavior that many people practice in preparation for a known or anticipated shortage. The goal of stockpiling is to create a reserve in case there’s a future need.

 

For example, people who live in cold climates may stock up on wood for fireplaces and salt for driveways before the winter. Similarly, those who live in the southeast U.S. may stock up on gasoline and water before hurricane season.

That said, stockpiling can be excessive. During a crisis, it can lead to national shortages of essential items. This occurred early in the pandemic, when people bought toilet paper in large quantities and emptied store shelves for everyone else.

Ironically, the more media attention on stockpiling, the more it triggers additional stockpiling. People reading about a potential shortage of hand sanitizer will be driven to buy as much as possible until it’s no longer available for weeks or months.

 

While stockpiling is planned, panic buying is an impulsive and temporary reaction to anxiety caused by an impending crisis. Items, even if unneeded, may be purchased simply because they are available on store shelves. Panic buying may also include purchasing enormous quantities of a particular item, in volumes that will never be needed, or emptying a store shelf of that item. Panic acquiring, which involves getting free things through giveaways, food pantries or scavenging, also occurs during a crisis.

 

Unlike those with hoarding disorder, panic buyers and stockpilers are able to discard something no longer needed. Usually, after the crisis has passed, they can easily throw or give these items away.

 

How to get help

 

For some with hoarding disorder, the pandemic has made it even harder to dispose of unneeded items. Others find their material belongings provide comfort and safety in the face of increased uncertainty. Yet others have used the 

 lockdowns as a reset – time to finally declutter their home.

 

If you or someone you know has problems with hoarding, help is available. Resources are on the American Psychiatric Association website and at the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation.

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article at the conversation.com.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

As we have seen over and over, many pursue "stockpiling" or "panic buying" in greed. It's the more for me and none for thee mentality. Then there are those that hope to gain huge financial rewards when they buy up all the desirable stock of certain items then try to resell them with price gouging in hopes of making a tidy profit.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

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What you are describing could perhaps be called "good old fashioned capitalism" rather than greed.  

 

It's the American norm to pursue making money any way we can without breaking any laws.  Our economy wouldn't have gotten very far without that type of spirit driving businesses and start-up businesses of all types.

 

Not many people would let a dollar lie unclaimed on the sidewalk if they came across it.   At best, they would donate it to charity or a needy person, which is what many "stockpilers" have been doing since the early days of the pandemic.  At least this happens where I live.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

We usually think of the survival instinct as something only seen in animals; however, we are animals and IMO it's present in humans. 

 

In humans, it's for our families and ourselves as it is in animals.  What would a mother wolf do?  She would fight to the death to provide food for her babies.  Of course, we are capable of thinking and reasoning...there are other people who need things too, but that survival instinct is too strong for reasoning.

 

So, I think it's normal people have been stockpiling.  It's not selfishness when our own lives and families are threatened.  

 

I could be accused of stockpiling for years.  I try to keep at least 6 months of non-perishables on hand at all times just in case.  If you have the money and space it's a wise thing to do.  

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

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Isn't  it the buyer's responsibility to practice "caveat emptor"  (buyer beware) and shop around for the best price before paying inflated prices to amateur resellers for common goods and services?

 

If someone's willing to pay for something they need, why shouldn't a seller try to satisfy that demand?

 

That's capitalism.

 

Also, from what I can observe in my local grocery stores, personal shoppers fulfilling orders from customers are early to the store and can empty shelves of basic goods very quickly when they're shopping for multiple consumers who order online.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

I started out by needing things... toilet paper, etc.  Then as it got scarce I actually felt it was a game to find it.  Heck what else did I have to do.;  No more activities that I depend upon and love.  I woke up decided to go on a hunt for those things that were in short supply.  No I did not keep it all.  I gave it to my family and neighbors.  When things were available I stopped. NO more fun of the hunt.  But  I look for other scarce things until I find them and then I go on to something else.  Keeps me happy and out and about even for an hour or so ... senior hours which are uncrowded.  

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

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Hoarders seems to have a life-long problem, don't they?  And they seem to hoard most everything is what I always thought.  Regarding, stockpiling, to me, that is a reaction of a particular event, such as the pandemic.  And it is certain things as a reaction of a particular event.  Initially, people grabbed up all the t.p., cleaning products, etc. because they were afraid they could not get out to get more and cleaning products because of the fear of the actual disease.  Now --- it appears to be happening again.  I was at Walmart yesterday and there was hardly any t.p., no spray, no wipes!  The reports on t.v. do not help the situation.  It causes a kind of panic, in my opinion.  They need to stop doing this, it only makes things worse.  These are just purely my speculations! 

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night." - Steve Martin
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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

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My relatives, in the Florida area, have "stockpiled" since they moved there 20 years ago. With constant storms, stores being boarded up and being unable to get out in flooded streets, they have special closets filled with extra paper goods, canned foods, bottled water, etc. I call it being prepared.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

Interesting article. I watched a few episodes of the TV show, "Hoarders" and I know someone like that, One thing I noticed most hoarders have in common: they either have no family or have been abandoned by their families or experienced a devastating loss. They have few, if any, friends and I have always wondered if that's why they fill their lives with things instead. The acquaintance who is a hoarder is an elderly lady who took care of her mother and never married, She never had children, has no siblings and just a cousin or two. Recently she decided to sell her house that she had lived in since she was a child, and one of her cousins, who is a friend of mine, had to clean the place out. Since the woman never allowed anyone to enter her house, everyone always suspected she was a hoarder, but even my friend was totally unprepared for what the house looked like. It was floor-to-ceiling full of everything imaginable. She never threw anything out. Sad.

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Re: Psychiatrist says stockpiling and hoarding differ

Being prepared for an emergency is smart and in order to prepare, you must stockpile. 

 

I've said this many times before: my father was dirt poor BEFORE the Great Depression hit and when it did...his family and many others suffered in ways we can't imagine today (though it still goes on, trust me). Because of that experience, my father ALWAYS had supplies on hand and they were SPECIFIC supplies, at that. I grew up watching and hearing the stories of those years and as an adult, I get it. Society is, for the most part, not going to help each other and you MUST take care of yourself and those close to you. Like others, I have months worth of supplies at hand. I don't go and purchase 20 of something at a time; I purchase one extra of items I know we use up quickly and also know that people tend to "hoard" when they hear bad weather/event is about to happen. I keep a good supply of powdered milk at home because fresh milk can go bad quickly if you lose power. I keep flour on hand (sealed) so I can make bread. We have individual water filtration kits (1 per person plus a few extra) so we can filter water from any source should that be necessary. THAT'S called being prepared.  Anyone can do it and it doesn't have to break the bank UNLESS you wait until the last moment. 

 

Hoarding is something VERY different, indeed.

"Coming to ya from Florida"