Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are you a tech junkie? When tech and media collecting becomes digital hoarding

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 extent to which technology 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 dysfunctional 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 due to the quanitity of time spent researching, collecting and organizing digital devices and/or media
social withdrawal and/or isolation patterns emerge with friends and/or family
social relationships begin to deteriorate and/or suffer negative consequences
physical functioning/self care habits show decline, such as neglecting regular exercise, poor dietary choices that result in significant weight gain or loss
sleep deprivation
poorly managed finances/debt as a result of digital/technology driven spending habits
difficulty stopping or reducing their collection of digital devices and/or media files that go largely unused
noticeable changes in mental functioning that result in symptoms of depression, obsessive/compulsive anxiety, or substance abuse
poor insight/inability to see the connection between their collecting habits and the negative consequences of their behavioral choices

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

Dr. Christina Villarreal
is a licensed clinical psychologist in Oakland, CA. For further questions or referrals email her at christina.villarreal@gmail.com