AUSTRALIAN health professionals have welcomed a decision by the American Psychiatric Association to recognise hoarding as an official and separate mental health disorder.
For the first time, the association has included hoarding disorder, with its own stand-alone diagnosis, in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used by all mental health professionals to diagnose patients.
Hoarding, which has attracted worldwide attention due to a popular reality TV show about the condition, was previously considered a subcategory of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Hoarding experts say the separate diagnosis in the latest editon - DSM-5 - will greatly aid the research and treatment of hoarding, which affects up to 5 per cent of the population.
''By accepting this as a mental health disorder it opens up the possibility of greater research and treatment programs,'' says clinical psychologist Christopher Mogan from The Anxiety Clinic, in Richmond. ''It will also open up more awareness among doctors and authorities who come across these problems, that these people are not just lazy and disorganised. They have a very disabling psychological disorder.'' Dr Mogan says until now research and treatment options have been limited.
''We're 70 or 80 years behind other conditions in terms of treatment programs and understanding the phenomenology,'' he says.
''It's only by being in DSM-5 that it opens up the possibility there will be teaching about hoarding disorder in university programs for health professionals and community workers because until now there has been no formal recognition.''
Long-time hoarder, Anne Petts, 67, from Ferntree Gully, welcomed the formal recognition and hoped it would lead to greater understanding and treatment. ''There are a lot of people like me but people don't understand what we're going through. They just put you in a box and judge you,'' she says.
She is seeking help from reformed hoarder and friend, Lee Farrer, to declutter her apartment and visits a mental health professional regularly. ''It can be really devastating, it would be wonderful if this led to more help and understanding.''