Obsessively hoarding objects is thought to affect around 1.5 percent of people, but when the behavior extends to collecting animals, the results can be devastating. Scientists are now arguing that the motivations and complexities behind the condition are different enough from those of general hoarding for it to be classed as a separate mental disorder.
For a long time, hoarding has been considered a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD compulsively save objects that many would consider junk.
But in 2013, the industry standard text on mental health – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – updated its entry for OCD, listing hoarding as its own entity. This was based partly on the fact that even though those with OCD are obsessively preoccupied with objects, people who hoard things tend to forget about them. This division is also supported by the fact that the drugs used to treat OCD generally don’t work on hoarders.
Animal hoarding is listed as a subtype under hoarding in the DSM. Now, researchers are arguing that it should be elevated to a separate listing, publishing their findings in Psychiatry Research.
The team interviewed 33 animal hoarders living in Porto Alegre in Brazil. On average, each person had 41 animals. Most of these were dogs or cats, although some people took to collecting ducks. The researchers found that in line with object hoarding, the average age of those affected was 60, around 90 percent were unmarried, and 76 percent had low-incomes. But they also found some significant differences.
Despite there tending to be a 50/50 split between men and women among normal hoarders, the researchers found that 73 percent of the people they interviewed were women. They also found that most people started collecting animals after a major traumatic life event – not usually the case with typical hoarders.
The psychologists argue that there are enough differences between general and animal hoarding for the two conditions to be divided.
Yet it might take some time for this view to be accepted by the wider community. “I think the arguments are interesting, but I don’t think they justify considering it distinct just yet,” clinical psychologist Graham Thew told Science Mag.
Nevertheless, the researchers suggest that the motivations behind the disorders are sufficiently different, especially as animal hoarders think that they are saving the animals they collect. As is often the case, more research is needed to assess whether the differences between the conditions are robust enough.
[H/T: Science Mag]