Mental Disorders – Paranoia, Symptoms and Potential Treatments

Article by: Scott Hall
English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
       Many citizens have experienced a sinking feeling that they were being watched or maybe even have reason to wonder if they are being followed, in some cases this feeling has proven effective in avoiding circumstances and events, in others it could make persons wonder or mutter “What’s wrong with this person” under their breath or even take routes to their destinations that are not exactly point to point.  Anxiety or being anxious, being nervous or unsure or even being a shade overcautious about things is a very normal part of our lives, but in those cases where it dominates one’s thoughts or actions, it is very unhealthy and in this article we will explore the condition known as paranoia in general and try to gain some insight on its gripping effects as well as list some of the different challenges and treatments associated with this sometimes debilitating disorder.

The social self.
The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
      Paranoia is defined as: (noun) 1 - A form of schizophrenia characterized by a slowly progressive deterioration of the personality, involving delusions and often hallucinations; 2 – A mental disorder characterized by any of several types of delusions, in which the personality otherwise remains relatively intact; 3 – (informal) intense fear or suspicion, especially when unfounded.  In the Psychiatry sense of the word, Paranoia is defined as: A mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the projection of personal conflicts, which are ascribed to the supposed hostility of others, sometimes progressing to disturbances of consciousness and aggressive acts believed to be performed in self defense or as a mission; baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.  Keep in mind that schizophrenia does have paranoid parameters as part of its realm, but paranoia isn’t necessarily a warning sign for schizophrenia, each case and person MUST be viewed independently in order to successfully conclude a prognosis or diagnosis. For example, one person’s perception of police cars being around every corner could be “eh, it’s normal” where another may think they are all focused on that individual simply because of the rate of interaction.

            Though the full spectrum of what causes paranoia have not been fully discovered they can mostly be attributed to a breakdown of emotional and mental function involving things such as reasoning and assigned meanings.  These thoughts and feelings can become part of a delusional system through an accident, a misunderstanding or injustice, heightened intimacy or even an increase in responsibility, fear of the unknown.  Some of those items can lead to symptoms that may include an intense feeling of mistrust for those around them which produces rage, hate or betrayal feelings and some persons suffering from this disorder may have a high capacity to annoy or enrage those around them due to maladaptive behaviors.  These persons can also be stubborn, perfectionistic, abrupt, self righteous, become argumentative or even have the inability to relax and each varied in degree, dependant on the severity of paranoia in the person affected.  Examples include (as types of paranoia): conjugal paranoia, erotomania as well as disorders of paranoid personality and paranoid schizophrenia.

Français : portrait Pierre Fourny
Français : portrait Pierre Fourny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    As one would expect, the biggest challenge of treating someone is getting them to accept the prognosis or treatment itself, often times the patient will become defensive and resistive to certain suggestions of cognitive therapies.  An effective beginning to treatment is to see if the situation is easily reversible, for instance if the patient tends to think that a particular product is causing the thinking, the therapist may suggest using an alternative with positive reinforcement, again, the patient may be somewhat resistive as in some cases they tend to think the doctor may be included in those who are “out to get them” or may have mal intent rather than positives.  Extreme cases where the patient may not be comfortable with overturning those situations or confronting the anxiety head on could result in the use of medications to help control the symptoms and while cognitive and not chemical therapies are on the rise, in some cases medicating the patient is a more productive path.     

            Another key to help in understanding the roots of the paranoia is when talking to the patient, it often helps to utilize a bit of logic to help uncover the fear or core of what is occurring, for example if a person is cautious about walking down a particular street, if that street is crime ridden, this could be used as a substantive basis for easing the patients over whelming concern or inner anxiety, social interactive feedback from the person will be a good foundation to help start the healing path.  Emotions, as touched on briefly above, can also contribute to a person’s feeling of inadequacy or perceptions of uneasiness including a recurring event or difficult relationships even being bullied or intimidated to the point of isolation can contribute to paranoia delusions, this is due to anxiety and suspicion having closely related anticipation of danger.  Anxious thoughts that influx those feelings become harmful as they drive the feeling of persecution or deception deeper and can sometimes cause the patient to become overly sensitive to either criticism or become somewhat dysfunctional in dealing with everyday stresses. 

STRESS LESS (Photo credit: BetterWorks)
     As we can see, paranoia is a disorder that is complex, comes with several labels and can be a part of a bigger underlying disorder such as Schizophrenia.  While the exact causes of this disorder are not entirely known, factors such as environment, stress, emotional and mental health can contribute to each person’s degree.  Cases where the anxiety, delusion or hallucination may be dominate in the person’s life, may also require medicine therapy as well as a cognitive therapy that may last a lifetime but should be focused on increasing the quality of life for the patient.  Paranoia can stem from relationships, personal interactions or encounters, repetitive cycles, it can cause anger or emotional withdrawal and should not be ruled out as a symptom of greater disorders, each person must be individualized to assist in effective treatments.  In conclusion, just because we feel a bit paranoid, does not necessarily mean someone is out to get us.

References and Further interests

Clark, D. M. (1999) Anxiety disorders: why they persist and how to treat them. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37, S5–S27.
Freeman, D., Garety, P. A. & Kuipers, E. (2001) Persecutory delusions: developing the understanding of belief maintenance and emotional distress.Psychological Medicine, 31, 1293–1306.

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