We use the term paranoia loosely in everyday conversations, so it is vital to define it regarding how those with schizophrenia experience paranoia.
You may ask Is being paranoid dangerous? Paranoid schizophrenia is a severe condition, and it can affect people’s lives.
The common belief about paranoia is having thoughts of something bad happening to you which is caused by something or someone.
When someone has a mental illness, these thoughts become extreme or exaggerated and have no basis at all. Examples of paranoid thinking are your partner is cheating on you, and your neighbor is spying on you.
You need to qualify paranoid thinking and see whether there is no foundation on facts that brought up the thought. For instance, when a cashier shortchanges us, we may suspect that they did it on purpose. This kind of thinking is normal as long as it is not pathological. We tend to be suspicious of people most of the time. It is entirely different when compared to the extreme paranoid belief that can cause intense suffering for people with schizophrenia.
We also need to take note that paranoia is defined differently based on cultures. A good example is a movement in America who call themselves the “preppers.” These are people who believe that the end of western civilization is near. They are making expensive preparations for surviving this event. This large group is composed of educated and intelligent people, and they lead normal lives. They think that it is a rational and sensible behavior to prepare for the end of the world by spending a significant portion of their disposable income. Majority of us would think that these people are crazy or paranoid.
It is the same with the media where many conspiracy theories are being promoted about everything under the sun. Blood moons and events in the sky are a sign that the end is indeed coming.
Paranoia is an indicator of an underlying illness. It can be caused by schizophrenia and other mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, delusional disorder and some other personality disorders. It can also occur in some brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. Lack of sleep may result in paranoid thinking as well as street drugs like cannabis, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Environmental factors can also cause paranoia. An example could be high crime rates being reported by the media. Life experiences like the loss of a loved one, separation of parents, loss of employment, trauma during childhood can lead to extreme paranoid thinking.
A person is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when the individual has prominent delusions and hallucinations which have grand themes. Their paranoid beliefs are extreme like not only is their neighbor spying on them, but the whole town is. This is what psychiatrists call persecutory delusions.
These beliefs are fixed, and patients will not be open to any suggestion by friends, relatives, and therapists. They may become obsessed with trying to defeat the conspiracy which affects their normal lives.
People with schizophrenia share some common ground in their paranoid thinking like they are being spied on by the government, devices have been implanted in them, and the internet is being used to spy on them.
Other symptoms may include hearing voices or auditory hallucinations. These voices will support whatever the persecutory ideas are.
One of the hardest aspects of paranoid schizophrenia is the risk of violence. There are times when an individual has intense paranoia and chooses to eliminate the people whom they believe wish them harm.
The other dangerous reaction is to inflict self-harm. Suicide is a solution that patients might think of to end their misery.
In the case of violent actions, one can claim the defense of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The problem is lawyers are reluctant to use this plea in court. This is why many people who have paranoid schizophrenia are being sent to jail instead of a mental institution.