Tuesday, 14 July 2015

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

It's not uncommon 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! 

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

Juggling hectic lifestyles and coping with key life events can make managing everyday things like paperwork, filing, time-keeping, meal-planning, book-keeping or finding homes for things even more challenging, and affect our health with a stress-related illness.  

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

Which is why I've created an ice-breaker form to help overcome the awkwardness of not knowing where to start the conversation about extreme clutter, hoarding and disorganisation problems.

I've very kindly been given permission to use the format devised by OCD-UK for a similar very successful ice-breaker document for people worried about opening up about their OCD.
The idea is that people download and complete the form (which includes an extract from the Clutter Image Rating Scale on the back), and present it to their GP (or other medical professional). 

It's important to note that extreme hoarding or having difficulty organising is unlikely to be a lifestyle choice.  GPs assess and treat patients all the time for conditions which can make organising difficult, such as:

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

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.
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) who get called out in the event of an emergency.

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


Many people with extreme clutter or hoarding problems feel anxious about inviting people into their homes, and could find an intrusion (from multi-agency personnel, such as social workers, the Fire & Rescue Service, Environmental Health Officers and professional organisers) extremely stressful. 

Which makes it even more important that they visit their GP and use this new form to ask for help and support to cope with additional people and extra sensory overload.

I have a number of clients who are affected by various medical and mental health conditions listed above; they use their Direct Payments and Personal Budgets to pay for my services, to make their lives easier.

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 stigma and shame that's currently associated with not being able to cope with so-called everyday chores.

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 it 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