Grundy County’s Hoarding Assistance Team
By Melissa Wasko
Hoarding is currently believed to affect 2-5% of the population. Though popularized by television shows such as Hoarding Buried Alive and Hoarders, this disorder is one which causes great distress for the person yet is often left untreated. Other disorders that often occur in conjunction to Hoarding Disorder, such as Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety disorders and Social Phobia can lead to hoarding behaviors which become coping mechanisms for negative thoughts, feelings and stressors. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, isolation and fear often prevent someone from reaching out for help. Over time the consequences of these coping mechanisms can become more severe as the person is unable to maintain a safe and functional home. This puts the person at risk as well as others, such as first responders, friends and family who may enter the home. In the end, it is the person getting the proper mental health treatment rather than just the home being cleaned out, which becomes the most effective approach.
This is the approach the Hoarding Assistance Team has chosen to take when encountering cases of hoarding across Grundy County. This group hopes to reach out to those who may need help but are unsure of how or too uncomfortable to reach out on their own. This has most often been done by instances in which first responders were called to a home and follow up visits could be done shortly afterwards. It is stressed that the purpose of these visits is just to offer assistance and supports that the person may not be aware even exists. The choice to accept these supports almost always relies with the person. Thus far, the Hoarding Assistance Team has reached out to many people across the county, and has helped support those who have accepted help. Mental health therapy has been provided, homes have been brought back to more desirable conditions, support services have been identified, and follow up care has been done. Even if someone chooses not to accept help at that time, it is the desire of the Hoarding Assistance Team to raise awareness that there is help available if and when person chooses.
The Grundy County Health Department continues to provide weekly group therapy sessions, helping those with hoarding behaviors at any level, even if the level of hoarding is not believed to be dire. A proactive approach is preferred in recognizing a need before risk increases. Trainings are also done to help groups or service agencies understand more about hoarding and how to best help someone who hoards. We are aware that not all cases will come to us, so help from the community is highly desired.
Hoarding Task Forces are becoming more common in the area and across the country. Grundy County is taking a somewhat unique and desirable approach to this matter in that we focus on helping the person through this supportive teamwork approach rather than a punitive one and getting to the root of the problem by addressing the mental health component. It is known that if just the home is cleaned, the person will likely still be suffering and still have coping mechanisms which can lead to the home returning to previous conditions. We hope to be models for other task forces and though we are relatively new in our development, we believe we have a solid foundation to grow from.