When artist Siobhan Marriott sought help for family members with hoarding behaviours, she discovered hoarding tendencies of her own.
- Siobhan Marriott creates collage and zines to explore her battle with hoarding
- An estimated 2 to 6 per cent of the Australian population are affected by hoarding
- Anglicare has released a study collating the experiences of carers looking after people with hoarding issues
“It’s made me more compassionate to my family members who have some of those same behaviours,” she said.
Ms Marriott said managing her own hoarding was a lifelong battle, and it had caused conflict in her relationships.
“When it’s very intense, it’s very socially isolating. It comes with a lot of shame and social stigma, and so people hide it,” she said.
“At university I started creating files on different artists and galleries and it started getting out of control.”
These days she draws on her experience with hoarding to create zines, which bring together images and text.
“It’s a very real way for me to use my hoarding behaviours to talk about hoarding.”
She shares her artwork on Instagram.
“I don’t show images of actual hoarded environments because it can be triggering or upsetting to people to see that.
“Much of my work is to debunk some of the things that people will suggest are useful, like the Marie Kondo book.
“It’s a great book, it’s a wonderful decluttering [guide], but it’s like the gold-level Olympic standard of decluttering, which is actually more damaging or upsetting if you give it to a hoarder.”
Understanding the behaviours
Siobhan Marriott was part of new research undertaken by Anglicare Tasmania.
It is the first study in Australia to examine the experiences of families and carers of people with hoarding behaviours.
Researcher Lindsey Fidler said while there were no firm figures, it was estimated 2 to 6 per cent of the Australian population were affected by hoarding.
“They often live with other mental health challenges as well … anxiety and depression [are] very common for those living with hoarding disorder.
“There often is a trauma or a critical incident that has triggered a response that needed comfort in the environment.”
Ms Fidler interviewed 25 people who support an older person living with hoarding behaviours.
One participant said:
“…we had a spare room full of junk, and then the lounge room was half full … then the lounge room is completely absorbed … the roof space is completely absorbed. Mum’s bedroom now is completely absorbed. It’s like a disease.”
Another participant said:
“I know of people sleeping on their bed in the kitchen. One, that’s all they can afford to heat. But the rest [of the house] is completely absorbed. The hoarding, like the mould on the orange, has absorbed [the house].”
Hoarding a potentially fatal fire hazard
Lindsey Fidler said many family members worried about their loved one’s mental health and physical safety.
“Trip hazards, fire hazards and blocked exits mean if emergency services need to enter the property they often can’t do so,” she said.
Maxine Griffiths is the chief executive officer of Mental Health Family and Friends, which supports family members of people with a mental illness.
She said hoarding behaviour could pose a significant health risk.
“In the kitchen, for example, if food is kept for a very long time then you have problems with rats and mice,” she said.
“If the keeping of animals, like too many cats or too many guinea pigs, that can become a hygiene issue as well.”
Breaking down stigma
Ms Griffiths said the stigma around hoarding could come from a lack of understanding.
“When we look at a person’s house and we see that it’s got lots of things in it and that the kitchen smells or that there’s rotting food in it, we tend to make a judgement and we tend to think the person’s just lazy or that they don’t care about their environment.
While support services for people with hoarding behaviours exist in some Australian states, in Tasmania there is nothing available for people with hoarding disorders or their families.
Maxine Griffiths said families were struggling.
“They feel like they are at breaking point. They don’t know how far to push the family member to remedy the situation and they’re feeling quite alone in knowing what to do,” she said.
“The supports that I would like to see more would be that opportunity for peer to peer support, which would be facilitated by a qualified person, and information online for family members.”
Older people ‘vulnerable’
The recent Aged Care Royal Commission highlighted that “older people should be supported to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, because that is where they want to be”.
But Lindsey Fidler said people with hoarding behaviours could struggle to do that.
“We were aware that older people living with hoarding would be a group that would be particularly vulnerable to not being able to age well at home,” she said.
Anglicare’s report recommends investment in community education, resources and practical support services, including family counselling.
“The investment in that will certainly compensate for things like bed blocking that happens when older people go into hospital but can’t be released because their environment isn’t safe,” she said.
Siobhan Marriott hopes by having more resources to help people with hoarding it will help break down the stigma and shame that goes with it.
“Because hoarding is so isolating it can be difficult for people to reach out and ask for help. But that’s even more difficult when there isn’t any help available.”