Friday, April 19th, 2024

Helping hoarders clear the way to a better future

Many of us have a tendency to keep clothes and possessions that we don’t need or use, justifying to ourselves that there will come a time when we want them or they will come in useful. For some people, however, hoarding is more than just an irritating habit and can become a problem that affects all areas of their lives.

Only recently has hoarding been recognised as a mental illness, but it is estimated that one or two people in every 100 are affected. In order to address this, Sevenoaks District Council has awarded £40,000 to West Kent Mind to help support people who have problems with hoarding and self-neglect.

Hoarding can seriously impact the lives of individuals, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter that present risks such as fire and falling, as well as emotional issues including social isolation, distress and conflict with neighbours because of odour and vermin issues. This can often also precipitate health problems such as depression, physical illness, memory problems and alcohol and drug misuse.

The funding, from the Council’s Better Care Fund, will support the ‘New Beginnings’ project, which hopes to help 48 people across the district. The project involves 12 weeks of one-on-one and group support sessions for hoarders, as well as a dedicated ‘Declutter Buddy’, who will help to declutter and re-organise their home. Because of the link between hoarding and mental illness it is hoped that the project will help reduce or eliminate hospital and GP admissions, reducing demand on the NHS.

Jill Roberts, CEO of West Kent Mind, says: “A case of hoarding which I have personally experienced is the story of Anne who had a difficult childhood, her father was a violent man and she was sent to boarding school. She left school and home as soon as possible, then after a disastrous marriage and having her first child went back home to live her mother. Anne got a part time job in a local school and it was about this time that she started to buy things she didn’t need. It was after her mother died that hoarding really took hold, coupled with severe depression and anxiety.

“Anne struggled to manage her finances and told no-one as she was too ashamed and embarrassed. Anne was eventually evicted, causing huge distress to her teenage daughter and terrible guilt for herself. Anne, now 62, lives alone and still has a serious hoarding problem, along with severe depression and anxiety as well as physical health problems.

“Anne’s story is fairly typical, amongst other things hoarding is often associated with loss and a difficult childhood. People who hoard can feel very emotionally attached to the things they hoard but very alone and isolated from people. We are delighted to work with Sevenoaks District Council to offer hoarders the type of help and support they need to overcome their difficulties. We also want to raise awareness of hoarding so that we can all have a better understanding of this problem and how to support people. We really want to reach out to people like Anne and work with them through this project so they can lead happier, healthier lives and feel part of their community. People will be able self-refer or be referred with their consent by our partners.”

Cllr Michelle Lowe, Sevenoaks District Council Cabinet Member for Housing and Health, also perceives the wider benefits that this scheme will have: “Supporting people with mental ill health is a major priority for Sevenoaks District Council which is why we are delighted to support West Kent Mind with this important work.

“This particular project also ties into our ageing well strategy as the average age of hoarders is 50, so with a growing older population this is an issue that is bound to increase over time.

“But we must not forget that helping hoarders also helps their family and friends who worry for their safety, as well as their neighbours who often suffer from anxiety about vermin and possible fires. Although this project appears at first sight to be for a niche need – it will end up helping a wide variety of people either directly or indirectly. We are delighted to be able to partner with Mind to tackle this important and often neglected issue.”


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