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Shopaholics beware! You may be an oniomaniac

IANS
Jan 12, 2008 at 08:30pm IST

New Delhi: If you find it tough to resist the idea of shopping every now and then, particularly if you are a woman and depressed, chances are you may be suffering from a disorder called oniomania.

It is marked by an obsessive desire to shop, and experts believe that out of 10 oniomaniacs, six are women. What's worse, it is a condition that remains mostly undiagnosed.

"Oniomaniacs, or those suffering from the compulsive shopping disorder, encounter frequent shopping bouts. They spend fat packets of money that give a feeling of euphoria," said Samir Parikh, chief of the mental health and behavioural science department, Max Healthcare.

OVER THE TOP: Those suffering from the compulsive shopping disorder encounter frequent shopping bouts.

Monica Chib, a senior consultant psychiatrist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said: "Six out of 10 people possessing the disorder are women. Especially those suffering from depression are more prone to it."

Commenting on why women were the most likely sufferers, Sanjay Chugh, a leading psychiatrist and the founder chairman of the International Institute of Mental Health, said: "Shopping or buying plays a strong symbolic role for women compared to men.

"Activities such as shopping, purchasing household articles or buying things for personal grooming are mostly recognised as part of the female identity. Various studies also assert that shopping is a great 'stress buster' for women.

"Often women resort to shopping as a distraction from their stressors or as a part of their leisure time activity, that is why the disorder is more prevalent in them. Men, however, seem to use sports or work as options to de-stress themselves," explained Chugh.

He also mentioned that the disorder usually appears at about 18 years of age. However, not many know about it in India and it is mostly detected accidentally when people come for treatment of other psychological problems.

"People in this country are currently unaware of the existence of such a disorder. Therefore they do not consult doctors for treatment. We accidentally detect cases of oniomania," said Chib.

"For instance, many couples approach us for counselling over marital discord due to frivolous spending by the wife on needless items. Also hapless mothers complain that their daughters feel dissatisfied if they do not go shopping or buy something at least once a week," she recounted.

Speaking about what sets off an impulse for shopping in an oniomaniac, Parikh said: "Depression, boredom and emotional distress like anxiety, low self-esteem and peer pressure are some factors that trigger the shopping spree in people suffering from the disorder."

The shopping spree is accompanied by a guilt feeling, which often precipitates depression in the sufferer and depression triggers a fresh shopping spree, launching a vicious cycle of emotional disturbances.

However, without psychotherapy, this disorder can persist an entire lifetime or till the financial ruin of the addicted person. In countries like the US and Canada, there are support groups for "shopaholics" to ease off the pressure.

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