Friday, July 31, 2009

Hoarders need way to calm anxieties


Hoarding is often a way to cope with anxiety and is sometimes a symptom of a larger mental health problem, said Darlene J. Barnes, a psychologist and nurse practitioner at Century Health, a mental health center in Findlay.

People often hoard money, food or animals, she said. The items can represent security, or be a way to calm anxiety or prevent loneliness.

The problem, she said, is hoarders eventually accumulate so many items that it becomes destructive.

“The house becomes stacked from floor to ceiling with all kinds of memorabilia ... to the point where it can become a fire hazard,” Barnes said.

For pet hoarders, animals often represent innocence and security, even though hoarding puts animals at risk for starvation and neglect, Barnes said.

Humane Society agent Dana Berger, for example, has found people in Hancock County living with up to 50 cats. Their homes become coated in cat feces and urine because they cannot manage so many animals, he said.

“They try to take care of them, but they get overwhelmed easily because the population increases so fast” as the cats are not spayed or neutered, he said.

Berger said he finds several hoarders every year, usually accumulating cats.

Last September, authorities say Valerie Serafin was found living in a garage, without running water, with dozens of malnourished cats and rabbits. She left Findlay, with her animals, before authorities could seize them.

Serafin was eventually caught in Hardin County, but the majority of the animals were too sick to save, officials said.

“For them, it's not so much about the animals as it is about not being alone,” Berger said.

Sometimes hoarding is a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, Barnes said. Those who suffer from the disorder might wash their hands repeatedly, obsessively count items, engage in ritual behavior, or hoard items.

“The compulsive behavior tends to dissipate their anxiety,” Barnes said..."