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How Hoarding Is Linked To Bipolar Disorder

Hoarding is linked to Bipolar

Approximately 150,000 Norwegians have a type of bipolar disorder, an illness that’s marked by swinging from mood highs (“mania”) and lows (“depression”). And, linked to bipolar disorder is hoarding disorder.

It also sometimes presents with surprising and/or interesting symptoms. One of these is hoarding and having lots of clutter in the home. The link between hoarding and bipolar makes sense. People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania and depression which can cause them to battle to manage their surroundings. For instance, when feeling depressed, one can lack the energy to clean up the house. On the other hand, feeling euphoric during a manic episode can cause a person to feel too distracted to concentrate on clearing away clutter.

Hoarding can become a serious problem

hoardingThis is the case if the amount of clutter someone has in their home interferes with their day-to-day life. An example is if the person has packed so much stuff in their kitchen that they can’t enter it to make meals. The clutter might also be causing stress for the person’s relationships, such as if the person and their spouse are often fighting about the mess.

Hoarding and Bipolar Disorder Share Symptoms

Although it might be difficult for people to understand why someone would want to buy lots of stuff or clutter up their home, it’s worth remembering that hoarders’ brains work differently from other people. When researchers used fMRI machines to study the brains of hoarders, they found that hoarders take longer to make decisions, have greater anxiety and sadness. It’s worth noting that these symptoms are also common in bipolar disorder!

The Urge to Spend

Another way in which hoarding is linked to bipolar disorder is through the need to splurge. As Dr. Ronald R. Fieve, a bipolar expert who’s written a book called ‘Moodswingstates, “The lifestyle of the manic-depressive who is in a high tends to be a glorious scattering of money.” This can include spontaneous shopping sprees that result in spending thousands in one day. Collecting a large amount of items that the person then takes home can result in, or exacerbate, a hoarding disorder. The problem with overspending is not just about hoarding items but collecting a large amount of financial strain! People with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder are more likely to be in debt when compared to the rest of the population.

Understanding Why People Hoard?

It makes sense that a person experiencing euphoria might want to buy something expensive, but what would drive the person to hoard? Hoarding relieves one’s anxiety, but then also creates more. For instance, when someone collects lots of things, they might feel safe or in control. The problem comes in having to discard or donate those things – the person might feel panicked at this thought. There are some common causes of hoarding, according to an article in Psychology Today:

Hoarders tend to suffer from anxiety and indecisiveness.
• There could be a genetic predisposition to hoarding.
Hoarders isolate themselves socially, so they turn to hoarding as a way to find comfort.

Finding Someone You Trust

Further isolating people from speaking about their hoarding problem could be fear of judgment. It’s important to speak to people they trust, and it could also be helpful to remind loved ones that hoarding means they’ve got a neurological conditionit’s not something quirky or weird. However, the important thing to remember is that hoarding can be treated.

Types of Treatment for Hoarding

There are many ways to nip hoarding in the bud. This can take the form of cognitive therapy. This is when a therapist helps people with bipolar disorder to understand why they hoard so they can prevent destructive behaviors.

Research has found that cognitive therapy is more successful at treating hoarding disorders than therapy and drugs used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This is important if we bear in mind that hoarding can also present with OCD. However, your doctor might prescribe medications he/she thinks will help deal with your bipolar symptoms as well as the hoarding symptoms, which could be beneficial. It’s therefore a good idea to seek help.

Hoarding is linked to bipolar disorder as both share common symptoms, such as compulsive shopping and isolation from loved ones.

By understanding this link, hopefully more people will see both hoarding and bipolar disorder as mental illnesses, and support those in their life suffering from either or both.

What Type of Bipolar Disorder Is It?

Each bipolar disorder illness is unique!

Uniqueness of Bipolar DisorderWhen nearly anyone thinks about bipolar disorder, they think of the symptoms of “regular” bipolar disorder.  Not that any person with bipolar disorder is “regular” (and most would not want to be), but there are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder.

One big problem with bipolar disorder is that each illness is unique.  Psychiatrists may classify them into categories – but they don’t always fit.  Here are some case scenarios: (bipolar episodesbipolar groups)

•    Jennifer has episodes where she is extremely agitated and unhappy and never seems to sleep very much.  These periods seem to last for a long period of time – but can alternate with months where she is simply unhappy and doesn’t feel like doing anything.
•    Max has had periods of depression before.  A lot of times, they go away after a couple of months and then he seems normal but recently he “disappeared” for a couple of weeks after some really bizarre behavior.  His friends never knew that he was any kind of bipolar until he told them he had been at the hospital.
•    Ben has periods of depression that can last for several months but when he is not depressed, he is productive and seems quite outgoing.
•    Sandra’s mood state can switch erratically.  One day she is all about shopping and the next time you call her, she is still in bed at noon.   This is a constant issue – and you never know what you are going to get.

These are three examples of bipolar disorder that don’t seem to fit the “normal” pattern.  None of these patients seems to be “regular” bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as:

Bipolar Disorder TypeBipolar I Disorder: manic or mixed episodes that last at least 7 days – or if manic symptoms are severe enough to need hospitalization.  This, usually, includes periods of depression that last at least two weeks.
Jennifer and Max both fit into this category.  Even though Max never had a severe manic episode, having a bipolar episode that warrants medical attention, he qualifies for the Bipolar I category.  Jennifer has mixed episodes – rather than euphoria or traditional mania – she has periods of “dysphoria” where she is agitated, irritable and irrational but with an excess of energy.

Bipolar II Disorder: depressive and hypomanic episodes in a pattern – but manic episodes are not severe.
Ben has Bipolar II disorder.  He has periods of depression that are debilitating, but his non-depressed periods are quite productive, and he doesn’t exhibit manic behavior.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: (Bipolar Disorder NOS) symptoms of illness don’t meet any other group, but the symptoms are clearly not within the standard range.
Sandra has BP-NOS.  She is what is commonly called a “rapid cycler,” meaning that she switches back and forth from mania to depression much faster than other people with bipolar disorder.

There is also a very mild form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia.  It is a cyclical pattern of hypomania alternating with periods of mild depression.  Many people would not even realize this is a problem.

Bipolar disorder is hard to classify.  It may be easy to determine that someone has a problem – but the uniqueness of each bipolar case makes it more difficult for even a patient to identify with the diagnosis.  Each type of bipolar disorder is, usually, treated the same medically. With an anti-manic agent (Lithium), anti-epileptic (Lamictal, Depakote) or atypical antipsychotic (Abilify, Zyprexa) – and sometimes with an antidepressant.

Melissa Lind