Melinda Beck, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal welcomed me as a psychological expert and contributor to her article, Drowning in Email, Photos, Files? Hoarding Goes Digital. The speed at which the technology industry is infiltrating our lives is taking a toll on our psychological well-being, and some of us are particularly at risk. This article skillfully discusses the development, associated symptoms and treatment of digital hoarding.
An excerpt from the article:
Christina Villarreal, a cognitive-behavioral therapist in Oakland, Calif., says she has clients in the tech industry—young men mostly—who spend so much time and money amassing collections of music or games or gadgets that they withdraw from the real world. “They can’t pay their rent or buy food because they have to have this latest piece of equipment to support their habit,” says Dr. Villarreal. She notes that hoarding often starts out as a way to feel good or fill an emptiness in life, but it leaves sufferers even more isolated. She helps clients relearn basic social skills and find other enjoyable activities instead.
The field of psychology is still establishing healthy standards of functioning when it comes to the consumption of technology. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) does not currently recognize digital hoarding as a mental disorder however it is being considered for inclusion in the DSM-V‘s main manual or as an appendix for further research, which will be published in May 2013. To better understand the basis of hoarding, review Do you have Chronic Disorganization, Clinical Hoarding, or are you just a ‘packrat’?
How do mental health experts currently determine when digital collecting becomes ‘digital hoarding’ and disfunctional in a person?
Psychologists like myself are likely to diagnose someone as dysfunctional when their digital collecting behavior begins to impact multiple areas of their functioning in the following ways:
- occupational and/or academic demands are no longer consistently met
- social relationships begin to suffer negative consequences
- social withdrawl and/or isolation patterns emerge with friends and/or family
- physical functioning/self care habits are show decline, such as neglecting regular exercise, poor dietary choices that result in significant weight gain or loss
- sleep deprivation
- poorly managed finances/debts as a result of digital/technology driven spending habits
- difficulty stopping or reducing their growing mass of digital devices and/or media files that go largely unused
- noticeable changes in mental functioning that result in marked symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse
- poor insight regarding the negative consequences of their hoarding habits
What kind of treatment, if any, helps someone with digital hoarding problems?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that can help to alleviate negative symptoms and improve overall functioning. A well planned treatment regimen may include:
- Systematic Desensitization also known as Graduated Exposure Therapy
- assessing the need for psychotropic medication to reduce symptoms of obsessive thoughts and behaviors, anxiety and/or depression
- identifying/increasing other enjoyable activities into daily life
- increasing social opportunities for support
- social skill building when necessary
- developing and maintaining healthy self-care for diet, exercise and sleep patterns
- support for debt management