Beverly Mitchell was a compulsive hoarder, and her death is now shocking readers everywhere. Mitchell’s neurotic need to hoard common detritus, while known to cause health risks, impair social functioning and render adverse effects on friends and family members, also was the actual cause of her death. The 66-year-old’s first floor of her small Connecticut home literally gave way under the weight of her accumulated debris, crushing her under a suffocating mountain of her own amassed clutter.
Police responded to Mitchell’s home over the weekend after a concerned postal carrier noticed her mail piling up on the porch outside her Cheshire, Conn. home. Like many hoarders, Mitchell lived alone and rarely left her house. Authorities called at her home on Thursday, then returned Friday when there was no response.
After breaking partway in, investigators realized the enormity of the situation – mountains of debris piled high in the basement after Mitchell’s floor had given way. A hole had to be cut into the wall to gain entrance, and a backhoe was brought in to clear the waste. Under it all was Mitchell, thought to be dead one week.
For more on her story, see:
As the video above showed, compulsive hoarding knows no end. Individuals suffering under rampant hoarding cannot stop, often until someone forces them to or evicts them.
Compulsive hoarding has only recently began to be studied, with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (AMA), not defining it until 2013. The AMA estimates a prevalence rate of hoarding is present in 2 to 5 percent of adults.
As advanced age sets in, coupled with events that may lead to loneliness – such as the death of a mate or the moving out of one’s children – the tendencies to hoard are no longer kept at bay. For that reason, hoarding is often connected to other psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as paranoid schizotypal traits.
The Anxiety and Depression Associated of America (ADAA) provides the following fictional narrative as to the anxious thoughts of a typical compulsive hoarder:
I’ve always had trouble throwing things away. Magazines, newspapers, old clothes… What if I need them one day? I don’t want to risk throwing something out that might be valuable. The large piles of stuff in our house keep growing so it’s difficult to move around and sit or eat together as a family.
My husband is upset and embarrassed, and we get into horrible fights. I’m scared when he threatens to leave me. My children won’t invite friends over, and I feel guilty that the clutter makes them cry. But I get so anxious when I try to throw anything away. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and I don’t know what to do.
The ADAA defines hoarding as a “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value,” and cites such things as newspapers, plastic bags, boxes, household supplies, old food – even excrement – as items a hoarder cannot part with.
Reasons for a person’s hoarding, per the ADAA, include the following:
People hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future. Or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or too big a bargain to throw away. They may also consider an item a reminder that will jog their memory, thinking that without it they won’t remember an important person or event. Or because they can’t decide where something belongs, it’s better just to keep it.
The International OCD Foundation offers therapy and placement to treatment centers for anyone suffering from obsessive hoarding.