(BPT) - Think of that family member or friend whose home is nearly clogged with clutter; how do you describe them? How do you address the situation? The terms you use and actions you take can have a serious impact on that individualís situation and mental state.

Hoarding is more common than many realize. Recent estimates show that as many as five percent of Americans may meet the criteria for hoarding disorder, thatís up to 15 million people. Hoarding is also now recognized as its own mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

ďA lot of people donít want to believe their loved one could be a hoarder,Ē says extreme cleaning expert Matt Paxton. ďWe want to believe the situation isnít that serious, but the truth is that hoarding isnít just something you see on TV. It happens everywhere, and real people suffer from it every day.Ē

Paxton, now serving as the in-house expert on hoarding cleanup for ServiceMaster Restore, provides specialized hands-on training to the company's franchisees across the country. To help you recognize whether your loved one is truly suffering from hoarding disorder, and to learn how you can help them get the professional help they need, Paxton offers these tips:

* Spot the symptoms. People who suffer from hoarding have a tendency to be extremely secretive about their problem. They may even attempt to hide it from friends and loved ones by not allowing people into their homes or private living spaces. Sometimes people who suffer from hoarding will cut off all communication to friends and family in fear that their hoarding tendencies will be exposed to the outside world. If you feel like youíre being shut out, donít give up; it just means you have to work harder to stay in this personís life and help them get the help they need.

* Recognize common triggers. Hoarding is often triggered by a traumatic event in someoneís life Ė the loss of a loved one, a divorce, cancer or job loss. A person begins hoarding because they are trying to fill this void with physical stuff, which adds up over time. Think of your loved ones who may be going through a tough time; are they purchasing items to an extreme? Itís important to recognize that they may need help from an expert, and soon.

* Seek professional help. If you donít know how to help someone who suffers from hoarding Ė and most people donít ó ask for assistance before attempting to handle it yourself. People who suffer from hoarding are not just collectors, they have a psychological attachment to their belongings ó something that the average person is not equipped to handle on his or her own. Remember, hoarding is a disorder. Professional cleaning services, like ServiceMaster Restore, can provide compassionate cleaning services for hoarding, and also refer you to local mental health professionals across the country to help ensure your loved ones get the professional help they need. Itís also important to have a professional check for the physical safety and the many hazards that may exist in a hoarded home.

* Donít escalate the crisis. Attempting to clean something up on your own is not only dangerous, it can also be detrimental to the person who suffers from hoarding. Mental health experts warn against throwing things away or making threats about ending a relationship with someone who suffers from hoarding. Both of these practices often do more harm than good. Compassion is key when dealing with a hoarding situation.

Paxton urges the importance of understanding that every hoarding situation is unique and requires special attention, especially if harmful contaminants are present. This is where professional companies experienced in construction and repair work, as well as cleaning and de-cluttering, can be particularly helpful.

"Together with ServiceMaster Restore, we can help more of those-in-need and have a real impact on the lives of those suffering from this mental health disorder," says Paxton.