--Original published at *Psych 105*
Society has become so enamored by reality television and the plights of complete strangers that even the most tragic situations become entertainment. This seems to be the reason that the infamous show Hoarding: Buried Alive has become a household name. Many don’t understand that the individuals that exhibit these extreme hoarding abilities are really suffering from mental illness. Rather, their illness is trivialized and they are labeled as lazy. Anna Almendrala from the Huffington Post agrees and with the help of Randy Frost from the British Psychological Society, sheds light on the potential detrimental effects such shows can have. Frost points out that the only portion of these people’s lives that are seen, is bits and pieces of an hour when their homes are emptied. There is no attention drawn to the therapy services that are needed in such situations like these, or that simply cleaning the house does not solve the problem. Instead, their struggles with mental illness are put on display without attention being drawn to the actual solutions to the underlying problems. Debbie Stanley, a licensed and certified professional organizer with a specialty in chronic disorganization, states that the show is more of an exploitation of the individuals than anything else. She highlights the fact that the cases that are chosen for the show augment the amount of squalor and only show the dysfunctional habits of the otherwise functioning people. It also stigmatizes and ostracizes those that are afflicted with hoarding, making them seem like outsiders that are messy and unable to control their lives.
However, there can be some foreseeable benefit for a television show like Hoarding: Buried Alive. As hoarding-cleaning.com points out, hygiene is sometimes risked for the sake of hoarding. In one particular instance, there was a situation where the one bathroom in the home was no longer functional, ultimately resulting in the family of 3 having to bathe outdoors. The benefits of the show were within the ability for the family to regain a more or less normal hygiene routine. An article written by Aina Hunter from CBS News highlights the warning signs for hoarding behaviors, thus drawing attention to the realness of the mental illness behind the show. Dr. Julie Pike explains how the diagnosis of OCD plays a role in the behaviors seen on the show. She states that it is easiest explained as an “addictive process” that wreaks havoc on home life. At the conclusion of the article and the warning signs, resources for assistance and support for those that may be affected by hoarding.
From my perspective, I see the reality television portrayal of hoarding to be detrimental to all those involved. Mental illness is already a stigmatized topic in today’s society and the exploitation of those who actually are affected by mental illness creates a situation where judgment and misinformation to flourish. The sources in which the show was viewed as a detriment highlighted the fact that the actual therapies that can help individuals that hoard is completely left out. This fact was pointed out by researchers from the British Psychological Society and experts in the field of organization. The show itself preys on the misfortune of the mentally ill and makes it glamorous for the general public. Those that say the show is beneficial only really say so for the awareness airtime and the quality of life piece. While the overhauls cannot solve the problem, they can potentially reduce health hazards and safety concerns within the home that otherwise would have continued to be an issue. Though doctors and news outlets preach the positives of the show, they neglect to touch upon the fact of the psychological and social effects of the show. It seems that the negatives outweigh the positives. At the end of the day, the show does not leave the viewer with an increased understanding of how mental illness plays a role in the behaviors that are displayed, but rather they are left with a portrait of individuals that are “lazy” with “no self-control”. There is little to no empathy for the situation, which leads to judgment and more stigma.