Organisers running support for people with the recognised disorder, where a person struggles to part with possessions and accumulates it to the point of being overwhelmed, say they have seen a huge increase in reported cases since the first lockdown, but that they expect the true extent of the issue to become more apparent over the coming months and years.
The combination of spending more time at home or people moving back in with parents during the lockdown, alongside the rise in loneliness, boredom and grief have been contributing to the rise in cases, said Jo Cavalot and Jo Cooke, who run Hoarding Disorders UK.
Based in Sheffield, Ms Cavolot said she helped 193 people last year with a £10,000 lottery grant after noticing a surge in calls, and that most cases they receive are reported by people concerned about their parents.
Hoarding was officially recognised as a disorder by the World Health Organisation in 2018 and an estimated 1.2m in the UK struggle with some form of it.
Although it is commonly linked to underlying psychological problems relating to loss or trauma, hoarding can also present physical safety risks with one in three house fire deaths involving cluttered homes.
“Some people experience what we call ‘clutter blindness’, meaning they just can’t see the clutter they have accumulated and that makes it very difficult to face up to the problem” said Ms Cavolot, who has been helping people with the problem since 2017.
“For many, it is a safety and control issue if you have suffered loss or a traumatic experience. Often, people build up a nest or a wall around them for security and they feel safe and cocooned in that.”
Jo Cooke, who is the charity’s director, said the past year had created voids in many people’s lives which hoarding items can fill.
“There is very much the mentality of, ‘people hurt me but stuff can’t’,” she said.
“Lockdown gave people the opportunity of suddenly having time on their hands to confront the space around them.
“The anguish and anxiety that has come from Covid-19 means they have become almost paralysed, and if anything that has validated their own behaviour and made them think, ‘well, I knew I needed those 500 loo rolls’. And then they go out and buy more.”
Ms Cavolot said that the possibility of hosting support groups again in the near future will be a benefit, while support from councils in South Yorkshire has allowed them to make “positive strides forward” to help people.
“People who hoard get used to their environment, so change needs to happen quite slowly.”
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