What is paranoia?
Paranoia is where you’re convinced people are ‘out to get you’ in some way. Whether that’s by spreading rumours about you, trying to physically hurt you, or by conning you out of money.
Examples of paranoid thoughts are:
- ‘My housemates are always talking behind my back.’
- ‘My teacher will give me low marks on my exam on purpose, because they don’t like me.’
- ‘The Government is trying to kill me.’
What makes this ‘paranoia’ rather than ‘the truth’ is if these thoughts are based on no real facts or evidence. So if you do overhear your housemates talking about you behind your back, you’re not paranoid, they’re just horrid.
How do I know if I’m paranoid or justified?
Again, do you have any hard evidence to back up your thoughts? This is a tricky one, because if you’re really paranoid you may twist what you’ve seen or heard to confirm your beliefs.
If you’re unsure and you’re worried, talk to someone you trust. Do they think you should be worried? If not, and if you have no evidence, then you may be suffering from some paranoia.
I’ve had paranoid thoughts – should I be worried?
It depends how paranoid you are, and there’s a certain scale to these types of thoughts. Some paranoia is totally normal and actually quite useful, i.e. ‘I’m scared I’ll be attacked by this gang I’m walking past late at night. I may cross the road’. Whereas other paranoia can be very serious, bordering on delusional, and can control your entire life, i.e. ‘If I leave the house I’ll certainly get attacked’.
Paranoia becomes a problem when it affects your day-to-day life. Being scared all the time can be knackering, stressful, and lonely – especially if you don’t feel you can trust anyone.
If I’m paranoid does that mean I’ve got a mental health problem?
Paranoia isn’t a mental health problem itself. However, serious paranoia is a symptom of some mental health problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar. So it’s really worth going to see your GP if you feel paranoid.
I’ve taken drugs – is this why I feel paranoid?
Drugs can cause paranoia, especially if you were feeling crappy just before you took them. So if you’re still high from cannabis, mephedrone, ketamine, ecstasy, or anything else, then that’s likely to be the reason why you’re freaking out right now. Try not to panic – this feeling will pass when the drugs are out of your system.
Still panicking? Go to A&E if you’re worried you’re in danger. If you want to know more about going to hospital after taking drugs, read our article here.
Drugs can affect your long-term mental health. If you’re not high right now, but you’re still paranoid and worried the drugs were to blame, go and see your GP. Everything you say is in confidence, so it’s unlikely you’ll get into any trouble. (If you’re worried, you can always ask them about their confidentiality policy before you spill all.)
We have an article on drugs and mental health if you want to know more.
How can I help someone who’s paranoid?
Supporting someone with paranoia can be hard, especially if they don’t realise they have a problem and are convinced their suspicions are justified.
Start by trying to understand where they’re coming from. Just because someone’s fears seem unfounded doesn’t make them any less scary for them, so don’t dismiss how they’re feeling.
- Listen carefully.
- Ask questions, giving them the opportunity to tell you what their paranoid thoughts are.
- Show that you understand that they’re scared.
- Gently encourage them to see their GP and offer to go with them.
- Give logical reasons why they don’t need to be afraid, for example: “why would so-and-so be trying to hurt you? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
- Get support yourself from a trusted friend, or give SANEline a call for a chat.
- Say things like “that’s definitely not true” as this can convince them even more.
- Pretend you believe their paranoid thoughts.
- Think that helping them is entirely your responsibility – it’s not.
Photo of paranoid boy by Shutterstock
- SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0845 767 8000
- Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
- Visit Madly in Love to discuss mental health and relationships, share stories and get support and advice.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
Updated on 25-Sep-2012