This CPD site is for Australian health professionals
image
Document your CPD for FREE

Get started with Ausmed to document your CPD online

Paranoia

CPD
4m

Published: 30 October 2019

Cover image for article: Paranoia

What is Paranoia?

Paranoia is a breakdown of a person’s various mental and emotional functions related to reasoning and assigning meaning. It is marked by unreasonable beliefs often to do with either persecution or grandeur (Mental Health America 2019; Dementia Australia n.d.)

People who have paranoia will often experience intense anxious, fearful or delusional ideation relating to a supposed threat or harm (Healthdirect 2018).

Paranoia is most commonly seen in people who have psychotic disorders. When a person has paranoia, it is hard or impossible to convince them that they are being or behaving irrationally. Beliefs become fixed and unshakable (Mental Health America 2019).

People who have paranoia will often experience intense anxious, fearful or delusional ideation relating to a supposed threat or harm.

Three Most Common Types of Paranoia

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD)

  • Paranoid personality disorder is characterised by long-existing and problematic thoughts, feelings and behavioural patterns.
  • People who have paranoid personality disorder might be convinced that others are ‘out to get them’.
  • They may present with behaviours that are secretive or argumentative. As a result, this might make them seem distant or difficult to bond with.
  • The essential signs of this disorder are mistrust and suspicion of other people, without adequate reason.
  • People with this disorder can continue to function normally despite their lack of trust for others.

(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2016; Cleveland Clinic 2017)

2. Delusional Disorder

  • A delusion is a strongly held belief that is at odds with reality.
  • A delusional disorder often presents as a single fixed and false belief that is not backed up by evidence.
  • Paranoid delusions are the most common, but people with this disorder may have other types of strange or unusual beliefs.

(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2016)

3. Paranoid Schizophrenia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia is considered to be the most severe of the three.
  • This condition is characterised by a person having very strange or disturbing delusions.
  • Hallucinations (a profound distortion of reality accompanied by a powerful sense that it is real) are also linked with this disorder (both visual and auditory).
  • A person with this disorder may present as being quite disoriented and will not function well without treatment.

(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2016; Dementia Australia n.d.)

When a person has paranoia, it is hard or impossible to convince them that they are being or behaving irrationally.

Paranoia symptoms may range from mild to severe. Depending on the cause they can involve the following:

  • Very intense and unfounded mistrust and/or suspicion;
  • Hypervigilance;
  • Anxiety;
  • Fixation on the idea of ‘hidden motives’;
  • Being easily offended;
  • Mistrust;
  • Not coping with even mild criticism;
  • Reacting badly to other people’s remarks;
  • Being defensive, hostile, aggressive and argumentative;
  • Finding it difficult to forgive people;
  • Not being able to confide in anyone and finding relationships difficult;
  • Anticipating harm constantly;
  • Feeling targeted by the world in general;
  • Believing in unfounded ‘conspiracy theories’.

(Better Health Channel 2016; Mental Health America 2019)

Paranoia Causes

The reasons as to why someone becomes paranoid is largely unknown. Paranoia is not always a result of mental illness and it is thought that a significant amount of the general population lives with mild paranoia (Healthdirect 2018).

Possible causes include:

  • Genes: Research is inconclusive but paranoia has previously been linked to genetics, it is unclear whether people can inherit or be predisposed to paranoia.
  • Brain chemistry: Some researchers believe that the recreational use of certain drugs can encourage paranoid thoughts and behaviours as a result of altered brain chemistry.
  • Trauma: Experiences of trauma such as enduring abuse in childhood may affect the way a person perceives threat in their day-to-day life.
  • Stress: Studies have indicated that intense stress may influence the likelihood of a person developing paranoia.
  • Neurological disease: Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson's disease or brain injury may cause paranoia in some people.
  • A combination of the above.

(Better Health Channel 2016; Health Direct 2018)

Paranoia Assessment and Diagnosis

  • Questions relating to the problem;
  • Psychological testing;
  • Attaining a family history of mental illness;
  • A general medical history;
  • History of drug and alcohol use.

(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2016)

Paranoia is not always a result of mental illness and it is thought that a significant amount of the general population lives with mild paranoia.

Treatment for Paranoia

Treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of paranoia. There is no known absolute-cure but there are treatments available to help people manage symptoms and have a better quality of life.

Medicines:

  • People who have paranoia may find anti-anxiety or antipsychotic drugs useful to ease symptoms.
  • They may be reluctant to embrace these medications due to fears they will cause harm.

Psychological therapy:

  • Psychological therapy has the potential to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life for people who have paranoia.
  • Keep in mind a person who has paranoia might be reluctant to trust a therapist enough to talk openly with them. The key to successful therapy is building trust and fostering a collaborative relationship.

Coping mechanisms:

  • More focused therapy might include relaxation therapies, therapy for anxiety, and behaviour modification therapies.
  • These therapies focus on helping the individual to function socially despite their paranoia.

Hospitalisation:

  • In severe cases, a person who has paranoia may require a long or short stay in hospital until their condition stabilises.

(Better Health Channel 2016; Mental Health America 2019)

Conclusion

Paranoia ranges in severity, it has the potential to significantly disrupt a person’s ability to live a happy and productive life. Fortunately, recovery is possible with time and correct treatment.

Additional Resources

Multiple Choice Questions

Q1. True or false: Paranoia is only seen in people who have psychotic disorders.

  1. True
  2. False

Q2. Which of the following is not a symptom of paranoia?

  1. Being easily offended.
  2. Mistrust
  3. Coping well with criticism.
  4. Reacting badly to other people’s remarks.

Q3. True or false: Neurological disease may cause paranoia in some people.

  1. True
  2. False
References

(Answers: b, c, a)

Author

Portrait of Ausmed Editorial Team
Ausmed Editorial Team

Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile

Related Learning Hubs

Learner Reviews

4.5

4 Total Rating(s)

Generic portrait
kaushik roy
16 Nov 2019

Helps to understand even though the subject context is common terminology in acute care setting. Refreshes the knowledge and helps to use peer reviewed literature as a journal

Portrait of Ednalyn Icao
Ednalyn Icao
07 Nov 2019

Very informative , helpful and great reinforcement to existing knowledge.

Portrait of FRITZIE MAE C LABOC
FRITZIE MAE C LABOC
06 Nov 2019

this is helpful for everyone and for those who doesn't usually handle psych patients.