Since I moved out and got married, I’ve noticed my dad seems to have some problems. It started off little and know it is out of control. He goes to stores daily buying very large quantities of items because he is afraid he will run out. He now is thinking of building a concrete slab with a large generator to power his house because he thinks that our power companies are changing and he is afraid we will be part of a rolling blackout. Every time I go to his house, his cabinets are overflowing with items he does not need, but just in case he needs them they are there. He worries about things that we all worry about, but it consumes his life and is draining him financially. His house looks like a Walmart warehouse. When you talk to him you would never know there is a problem by everyday conversation, but my dad’s problem is only growing worse in time. The neighbors are starting to notice all the boxes on the curbs of the things that he buys. He takes medicine for anxiety and depression, but whatever he has these medicines don’t control this problem. He knows there is something wrong with him but I’m afraid he will be misdiagnosed if I take him for help. What is wrong. Help
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Assuming there is no medical problem that could be altering your father’s behavior, I’d guess that his anxiety has run away with him. What you are witnessing is perhaps a variety of compulsive behavior akin to the sort of behavior associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or OCD), which is a type of anxiety disorder. In true OCD you have both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repetitive thoughts that intrude into consciousness again and again, often concerning topics that feel dangerous and in urgent need of attention (hence the anxiety disorder part of things). Compulsions are behavioral actions that are taken to minimize the danger from the feared obsessions. So – for instance – a person with OCD might develop an obsession with the idea that germs are infesting his (or her) body and act by continually washing himself for hours at a time until his skin is cracked and bleeding. There is an irrational edge to obsessions you might note. We’re all infested with germs and it’s okay – it’s natural that this is so and generally this does not pose a health risk. It is only some germs that pose a risk, and when you’ve got them on board, you know it from the illness that develops – like colds and flu. An obsessive man with such a believe will not appreciate the normality of germs or the general lack of danger involved. Germs will seem an alien and invading force and there will be grave urgency to ward them off the body.
Many obsessive people recognize that there is an irrational urgency to their obsessions, but the obsessions are nevertheless so urgent and anxiety provoking that they cannot be “thought away” with any success. Common obsessions concern germ infestation, but also dirt in general, and whether or not the door has been locked properly, the iron or oven has been turned off, or whether the car has enough gas. At times, obsessions and compulsions can take on a sexual character too, and even in some cases, bizarre and very unlikely delusional themes that border on psychosis. Your dad doesn’t sound that bad off, but there is (based on your concern) some real irrational hording going on here, whatever his true diagnosis is. It would be a good idea for him to consult with a psychiatrist, for there are reasonably good medication treatments that can help to quiet obsessions. A Psychiatrist (rather than a general medical doctor) is in the best position to diagnose or rule out OCD. He or she will also be in the best position to evaluate the use of antipsychotic medicines to help your father cope. Though originally prescribed only for schizophrenia, today some antipsychotics are useful for helping to treat problems like OCD.
If this is OCD or something similar that your father is coping with, I’m afraid that there are not good non-medical sorts of treatments that can reliably reduce symptoms. I know of no good psychotherapy to ward off OCD (although cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful as an adjunctive (secondary) treatment. Relaxation oriented lifestyle changes can be helpful as well, but they are often not enough to reduce the grip of OCD obsessions.
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