Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Is clutter affecting your health or wellbeing, or both? Then fill in this form and take it to your GP

Feeling unwell, overwhelmed or at the end of our tether because of clutter and disorganisation is a much more common, debilitating and potentially life-changing problem than you might think. 

Chores that some people find easy can be a nightmare for others - like filing paperwork, time-keeping, meal-planning, money management or quickly finding things that have been put away in that safe place - so safe you can't remember where it is! 

Juggling a busy lifestyle or having to cope with expected or unexpected life events doesn't help, and add to that an existing health condition - or one that you may not even know you have - and it can become overwhelming and a recipe for disaster.

I regularly hear of people who feel so anxious or embarrassed about their homes that they won't allow people in - even when they have no heating, hot water or electricity, and are in desperate need of help and support from trades people such as plumbers, electricians or heating engineers.

And it might not even be your own clutter that causes heartache or health problems - it might belong to a loved one or friend.

So how to ask for help? 

It's common to sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about going to a GP, especially if we don't know how to start a conversation about lumps, bumps or problems with bodily functions.

And then there's the predicament about how to start a conversation about symptoms that may affect our minds rather than our bodies, like feeling anxious, having obsessive thoughts or not being able to cope with life in general.  

Which is why this new ice-breaker form will help overcome the awkwardness of not knowing where to start the conversation about health problems related to extreme clutter, hoarding and disorganisation.   The idea is that people download and complete the form and present it to their GP, or other medical professional. 

GPs assess and treat patients all the time for conditions which can make organising difficult, such as:

According to the 2014 annual health survey for England, one in four adults has been diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage during their lifetime.

By 2018 the NHS and NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which is sponsored by the Department of Health) are likely to have added Hoarding Disorder to the list of mental health disorders, although only specialists will be able to diagnose it.  

I heard about a case recently where someone (who exhibited hoarding behaviours and had all sorts of health problems due to their complex situation) had completed the ice-breaker and ticked all the boxes except one.

It's estimated that between 2%-6% of the population exhibit hoarding behaviour:
  • Acquire and fail to disguard possessions which appear to be useless or of limited value
  • Have clutter which is so severe that it prevents or precludes the use of living spaces for what they were designed for
  • Have clutter which causes significant distress or impairment for the individual and family members.
And in England* The Care Act 2014 classifies hoarding as self-neglect.  Which means GPs and any agencies coming into contact with hoarders have a duty of care to report patients exhibiting hoarding behaviours to the local authority, so that it can be investigated by its Safeguarding team.
*There may be slightly different arrangements for Scotland and Wales

Excessive amounts of clutter creates high safety risks, not only for the people living in a property, but also neighbours and public safety services such as the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) who get called out in the event of an emergency.  Which is why the ice-breaker includes an extract from the Clutter Image Rating Scale on the back, as the FRS like to know whenever Level 5 or above is reached, so they can visit and do a Safe & Well visit (previously known as a Home Fire Safety visit) and discuss things with the resident such as emergency evacuation plans and fit free smoke detectors.

Which makes it even more important that people whose health is affected by clutter, disorganisation or hoarding visit their GP and use this new form to ask for help. 

I must thank OCD-UK for kindly giving me permission to use the format of a similar ice-breaker that they devised for people worried about opening up about their OCD.

My vision is that GPs will learn about and recommend the services of specialist practitioners (working in conjunction with other agencies) to those who suffer with the conditions outlined above, or are at risk of going on to have mental illnesses as a result of the perceived stigma and shame that many people still sadly associate with living in a cluttered or disorganised home.

So, if you or someone you know feels unwell as a result of clutter or disorganisation and don't know who to turn to, please don't poo-poo their difficulties and tell them to snap out of it - it's likely to make them feel worse.

Instead, why not suggest that they click here to download this simple to use ice-breaker document, fill it in and hand it to their GP at their next appointment?

Because life's too short for your health to be ruled by clutter or disorganisation.

Do please let me know how you get on using the form, and what kind of response you get from your GP.  

                     Thank you.

Originally published July 2015 - updated May 2017