Psychiatric conditions are sometimes named due to the symptoms they evoke in the people who have them. Major depression, for example, is the name given to psychiatric episodes in which a person is severely depressed. Here, the name really tells the story. There are some conditions, however, that have more playful or elusive names that can be a little baffling to people who don’t work within the medical community. Diogenes syndrome is one of these conditions, and while the name might be somewhat intriguing or amusing, the condition it describes can be devastating, and it can belinked to the use and abuse of addictive substances.
Origins of the Name
Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who believed that a virtuous life should be conducted in accordance and agreement with nature. A person like this would live a bit like an animal, focusing only on the needs that would take the person through that day. A person like this would also reject any demands that weren’t in accordance with nature. No worries about status or fame would enter into the picture. By most accounts, Diogenes lived a relatively successful life, holding discussions with others and remaining relatively healthy and happy in the process. But since he did tend to live a life that trended toward poverty, his name has been attached to a specific type of mental illness that’s attached to squalor.
Defining the Disease
Like the Greek philosopher, people with Diogenes syndrome live a life that that’s somewhat unusual, when compared to their peers. They’re not concerned with issues of wealth and status at all. In fact, they don’t seem concerned with even the most basic tenets of cleanliness and sanitation.
People who have Diogenes syndrome tend to live in homes that are packed to the rafters with garbage and papers. The home might be difficult to walk through, as each available piece of space is taken up with a pile of collections or a stack of garbage. The sinks, bathtubs and toilets might be unworkable, as they might be clogged with detritus, so the bits of floor that are visible might be scattered with human or animal waste. Tiny creatures like mice, birds and fleas might infest the space, finding food in the abandoned garbage and nest space in the stacks of paper.
Some of these characteristics are seen in people who have hoarding behaviors due to obsessive-compulsive disorder. These people also clog their houses with things, and they sacrifice cleanliness for the sake of maintaining piles of things others might call meaningless or worthless. People with Diogenes syndrome, on the other hand, aren’t really making collections or purchases. Instead, they’re just allowing the detritus of life to surround them, without bothering to clean up at all. Instead of stacks of possessions, they just have stacks of garbage.
People who hoard might also seem relatively healthy to outsiders, and they might seem clean and tidy when they’re separated from their homes. Those with Diogenes syndrome, on the other hand, may be covered in filth, and they might eschew bathing altogether. They might have fingernails that are intensely long and caked with grime, and their hair might be matted and tangled. Some people with Diogenes syndrome even resist the idea of using a bathroom to eliminate, and they might simply release their bladders and bowels wherever they might be sitting, allowing that material to soak through their clothing. They might leave the house in these same items of clothing.