At this time of year the traditional boxing day sales are a major event in our Australian culture. Millions are spent on bargains of all sorts. This has a positive effect on the economy and may families use their Christmas vouchers to buy things that mean something to them.
The is a downside to excessive shopping that is not often discussed. Buying “things” for the point of having more “things” can be sign of or symptom of mental health issues. Please be aware that going on a one off shopping binge can be a totally novel or new experience, and can be part of exploring doing things differently for mental healthy individuals. Excessive shopping becomes a problem when it becomes excessive or crosses the normal boundaries of what is reasonable.
Here are some mental health conditions that are often linked to excessive shopping:
- Hoarding is a condition that affects about 2-5% of the community. One of the key symptoms of this condition is collection and retention of excessive possessions. This doesn’t refer to those that collect items and have capacity to store a collection. Hoarding is when individuals collect items that often have little monetary value and those collections exceed the reasonable capacity of the place in which they are stored. Most individuals who excessively collect items will not present to any treatment, as it is one of the least recognised mental health conditions. Individuals who hoard are often very anxious about losing possessions if they open up to someone about their situation. The most concerning health issues that occur from hoarding include dangerous living conditions where mould, vermin or other environmental dangers accumulate. The individuals in the home can become seriously ill and health professionals will not understand why the person continues to be sick. The home also becomes a fire hazard, and escaping a home where there is hoarding may pose serious risk those living in the home. The primary treatment is counselling around the anxiety of losing possessions and finding new ways to think about the condition.
- Narcissism is a personality trait where we want to make ourselves look better than others. Everyone has moments of time when they are self-centred. For some people this becomes more than just a feel good moment. Those who suffer from low self esteem if they don’t have possessions can become obsessed with collecting valuable items. These possessions are used as projection of how they want others to value them. In Western culture this way of valuing individual success through possessions is common. What is problematic and dangerous is when possessions become more important than people. For example, if a young child drops an ice cream in an expensive new car, some people will react terribly and punish the child because the car is more valuable than the child. They won’t be able to evaluate that a child is unable to reasonably control their actions in a situation like this. This devaluing of humans, lacking empathy and valuing the possessions is perhaps a point where it becomes mental health concern. About 5-6% of adults have this disorder.
- Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder where an individual is at times depressed and other times in hyperactive or in a “manic” state. About 1-2% of the population has this condition but most are not aware of it for over 10 years after symptoms appear. This particular disorder is a little more extreme and a person who is manic may show erratic behaviour that is not normal. The erratic behaviours include rapid speech where they cannot slow down, significantly reduced sleep for days, often weight loss, intelligent persons can end up embarking on projects that seem unreasonable, and they appear to be hyped up and unable to slow down. Excessive shopping in this state is dangerous because an individual may be unaware how to stop shopping. Those with bipolar will be aware at a point in the future that they have made a mistake and suffer financial loss for spending money on items that were not needed. About 50% of the population with bipolar are unaware they have this condition. Awareness of the condition, support from others, maintaining sleep and diet and other such lifestyle changes can have a big impact on decreasing the risk of future episodes. In rare situations a person loses contact with reality and emergency medical help will be needed.
All of these conditions have specific counselling treatments that can reduce symptoms. The biggest problem is knowing about the condition sooner rather than later. Treating these disorders before disasters occur can help the person avoid future pain and suffering. Waiting till a person needs hospitalisation is unfortunately how these conditions are treated. If we could reach out to those with these condition earlier we could save those individuals much heartache and grief. All three conditions are a little stubborn in nature and self-help often only goes so far to helping, and don’t tend to resolve without professional support by someone skilled in the treatment of those conditions.
For more information on our website dedicated to mood disorders like depression and treatment.
Author: Vivian Jarrett