Hoarding to be labelled an illness in DSM; manual used by Canadian doctors

Hoarding. It's good for cable-TV ratings. And, for the first time in history, it's being named a mental disorder.

In the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — an American reference book used as a the standard by Canadian psychiatrists — hoarding is highly likely to be listed as an official mental disorder, the American Psychiatric Association states.

It's estimated that two to five per cent of Americans suffer from hoarding. There are no comparable figures for Canada yet, although in 2010 it was estimated that more than one million Canadians could be named hoarders, with stats showing that the prevalence of hoarding tends to increase with age, CBC News reports.

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Hoarding isn't just a too-much-clutter issue. The diagnosis will address those whose living spaces are barely liveable as they find it near-impossible to discard of possessions, regardless of their actual value.

The APA's proposed diagnosis cites that hoarding's symptoms "result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use."

The mental-disorder diagnosis helps differentiate hoarding from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) — and encourages treatment, like cognitive behaviour therapy, for those who suffer it.

Toronto researcher Martin Antony, chair of the psychology department at Ryerson University, recently launched the first study examining the link between hoarders and their loved ones.

"It's referred to as accommodation — the tendency for family members to do things that ultimately make it easier for hoarders to continue hoarding," Antony tells the CBC.

Hoarding doesn't just create an unwelcoming living environment. Hoarders suffer the financial blows that come with impulse shopping, and have higher-than-average divorce rates and antisocial tendencies due to the embarrassment of their homes.

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The Globe and Mail's Adriana Barton points out that treating "pathological pack rats" effectively also addresses a bigger issue: health and safety.

"The sheer volume and weight of flammable materials pose a fire hazard and the risk of building collapse. The infamous Collyer brothers, for example, starved to death in their New York apartment after they were buried alive by an avalanche of worthless junk," she writes.

Only time will tell if the mental-disorder classification will inspire more treatment-seeking from hoarders and their families.

Not sure if your clutter problem points to something more serious? A Hoarding Scale Self-Report is currently being tested to help diagnose the disorder.

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