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Saturday, 2 June 2018

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, disorganisation or hoarding is a much more common, debilitating and potentially life-changing problem than you might think. 

Chronic Disorganisation 
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.

We regularly hear of people who feel so anxious or embarrassed about their chronically disorganised 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.

It can affect a person's health, their relationships and their ability to function normally - in their home, in their personal life and sometimes at work too.

Hoarding behaviours
And then there's the more extreme end of the clutter spectrum - hoarding behaviours - which involves three main problems:
  • Excessive and compulsive acquisition of items - some of which may appear to be useless or of limited value to many people
  • Extreme difficulty letting them go 
  • Having so many possessions that it prevents or precludes the use of living spaces for what they were designed for


By 2019 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 their list of diagnosable mental health disorders, although only specialists will be able to diagnose it.  

It's estimated that between 2%-6% of the population exhibit hoarding behaviour.  And in England* The Care Act 2014 classifies hoarding as potentially being self-neglect. Which means GPs and agencies coming into contact with hoarders should report patients exhibiting hoarding behaviours who are self-neglecting to the local authority, so that it can be investigated by the local Safeguarding team.

*There may be slightly different arrangements for Scotland and Wales

Concerned relatives, friends & neighbours
It's often concern over a loved one, friend or neighbour who exhibits these behaviours that causes heartache or health problems for the relatives or friends who are at their wits end to know how to help them change.  

Especially as 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.  


When someone's safety, health or wellbeing is affected, it's time to take action.
The ice-breaker form helps people overcome the awkwardness or embarrassment of not knowing where to start the conversation about health problems related to extreme clutter, hoarding and disorganisation.   

It's important to note that GPs assess and treat patients all the time for conditions which can make organising difficult, such as:

Click here to download a list of examples of some of the medical conditions and other contributory factors that may be encountered when working with people who have clutter, chronic disorganisation or hoarding issues.

So how do you ask for help using the Ice-Breaker form? 
The idea is that people download the ice-breaker formtick the relevant boxes and present it to their GP, or other medical professional. 


The Ice-Breaker form can be downloaded from these websites
We're delighted that our friends at the following organisations have kindly endorsed the use of the form, which can be downloaded from their websites:
  • Hoarding UK - the UK charity for people affected by hoarding, and organiser of the UK's first National Hoarding Conference in May 2018
  • Help for Hoarders - a website for compulsive hoarders and their families 
  • Clouds End CIC - the UK's first social enterprise for helping hoarders, founded by hoarding campaigner Heather Matuozzo, who was a consultant to the BBC for their 2012 and 2013 documentaries, “Britain’s Biggest Hoarders” (the 2012 documentary won the MIND Media award).
  • Hoarding Disorders UK CIC - a Berkshire-based Community Interest Company co-founded by Jo Cooke, author of the insightful and compassionate go-to book "Understanding Hoarding" that has deservedly received numerous 5* reviews on Amazon.
  • Life-Pod Clutter Management CIC - a Scottish social enterprise founded by pioneering chronic disorganisation and hoarding behaviour specialist and trainer Linda Fay - organiser of the International Hoarding, Health & Housing Conference in Edinburgh in October 2018
  • Hoarding Awareness Week - the annual event (originally started by the Chief Fire Officers Association in 2014) to raise awareness of hoarding and reduce the stigmas associated with it.
The ice-breaker can be used to start a conversation about yourself or someone you're worried about if your health has been affected, and includes tick-box statements like:
   It’s hard for me/them to talk about this
   I/they feel alone and need support
   Other people don’t seem to understand
I/they feel distressed, and/or indecisive about what to do to make things better
I’ve/They’ve become secretive/ withdrawn about this situation
   My/their self-confidence/self-esteem is very low
   I/they feel very uncomfortable about/reluctant to change
   It can be hard for me/them to live normally/work/study/travel/pay bills/make or keep friendships and relationships
   I/they have been notified by the Local Authority/my Landlord/other agency that action will be taken if I/they don’t do something soon (explain which agency – eg. bank, landlord, Environmental Health, Family Liaison, boss, etc)
   Family/friends/neighbours have taken (or have threatened to take) matters into their own hands
   I/they don’t feel I/they have anyone to talk to who would actively listen empathetically and/or non-judgementally to my/their concerns
   I feel out of my depth with my knowledge of how to help and/or support my relative/ friend/colleague, or myself 

And asks the Medical Professional to "Please talk me through the types of help and support that could empower me to feel better".

The form also 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 (also known as a Home Fire Safety visit) and discuss the risks with the resident, advise on actions that can be taken to make things safer, including emergency evacuation plans and perhaps fitting free smoke detectors.

What can the GP do to help?
Helping people whose health has been affected by chronic disorgansiation and/or hoarding is rarely a quick fix.  

Recently we heard about a case 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 every single box except one.

The GP used the ticked responses in the questionnaire to ask further questions about the patient's symptoms and difficulties, which gave him a better understanding of the problems the patient was facing - which included potentially being evicted.

The GP referred the patient for blood tests; prescribed treatment for various health problems; referred them for counselling for mental health problems (including anxiety and depression), and an assessment for Autism and ADHD.  And because the patient was self-neglecting they were also referred to the local Adult Safeguarding Board.  

A multi-agency team was formed, which enabled the patient to get advocacy help and support, and lead to intervention from specialist Professional Hoarding Practitioners.  

The Professional Hoarding Practitioners used an holistic and practical person-centered approach to empower the patient/client to make decisions which resulted in the number of possessions gradually being reduced, and the safety risks associated with the cluttered property being significantly reduced too - to the extent that the eviction was cancelled.  

The patient continues to have therapy and work with the multi-agency team which is supporting them. As a result, the patient's anxiety levels have reduced, their health has improved and they are now attending a hoarding support group.

Act now, before your health deteriorates any more....
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.

SURVEY:  Please let me know how you get on using the Ice-Breaker form by completing this survey (click here).  

                     Thank you.


**UPDATE** Check out our stand at The National Hoarding Conference on 14th May 2018, at the start of National Hoarding Awareness Week.

Originally published July 2015 - updated May 2018


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