Paranoia

Paranoia can be so convincing it’s hard to know whether to trust your thoughts. We’re here to explain what paranoia is and what you can do about it.

Young man sat in the sun on his phone. He is smiling lightly.

What is paranoia?

Paranoia is when 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.

Paranoia isn’t a mental health problem itself. However, serious paranoia is a symptom of some mental health problems, including schizophrenia or bipolar. So it’s really worth going to see your GP if you feel paranoid.

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 reality 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, that actually happened, and probably isn’t okay.

On the other hand, 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 paranoia.

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.

What causes paranoia? 

No one knows exactly what causes paranoia but there are several things that can contribute to feeling paranoid. Some of these things include:

Bad experiences 

Bad experiences like being bullied, being burgled, childhood abuse, or getting mugged at night can make us feel suspicious and wary of similar events happening again. This can lead to paranoia.

Mental health problems 

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or even insomnia, you’re more likely to experience paranoia. You might be feeling on edge, worried about something or isolated from the people around you which in turn can spark those paranoid feelings.

Drugs

Drugs can cause paranoia, especially if you were feeling crappy before taking them. Drugs like cannabis, magic mushrooms, ketamine, MDMA (and all the others really) can cause paranoia. This is usually what contributes to a ‘bad trip’. But these feelings tend to go away once the drugs are out of your system.

If you are a regular recreational drugs user or you have a serious drug problem, paranoia can quite quickly seep into your regular life, even when you’re not high.

I’ve had paranoid thoughts – should I be worried?

Whether or not you should be worried really depends on how paranoid you think you are. 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 definitely 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.

How to 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 or be rude about it.

Instead:

  • 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 SANE line a call for a chat.

And definitely don’t:

  • 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.

Need some help with your mental health?

While we’re not qualified to diagnose or give advice on paranoia, we work with 1000s of other organisations and can take the stress out of find the mental health support you need. You can get support from us, or just talk anonymously and for free on our helpline 0808 808 4994.

Or why not join our community?

Next Steps

  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • 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.

By Toni

Updated on 16-Sep-2020

Image from Shutterstock