Those who have persecutory delusions believe someone or something is trying to harm them. However, none of this is proven to be true. Persecutory delusions are a type of paranoia. These symptoms often accompany schizophrenia and other mental conditions, such as schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
What are persecutory delusions?
Persecutory delusions occur when someone believes a person or group wants to hurt them. Several different mental illnesses can cause this type of paranoid thinking.
Persecutory delusions can affect people in various ways, from believing their teammates are sabotaging their work to believing the government is trying to kill them. People who have persecutory delusions may put themselves in danger and struggle to live a normal life as a result.
People with persecutory delusions can have a serious impact on their lives when they believe that other people are trying to harm them. Mental illness usually leads to delusions and requires professional help.
Read: Delusional Parasitosis
Types of persecutory delusions
Those who suffer from mental illness can suffer from persecutory delusions. It is most common to associate these delusions with schizophrenia, however, they may also occur during manic episodes of bipolar disorder or during severe depression.
There is a high frequency of persecution delusions among people with mental illness.
Delusional disorders are also common, an illness characterized by delusions lasting at least one month without any other symptoms of psychosis. People with dementia are also prone to delusions. Persecutory delusions are thought to occur in 27% of people with dementia at some point in their lives.
Mental disorders that involve psychosis are less common than delusional disorders. There is no evidence that delusional disorder is common in the general population.
The following delusions are less common:
- Somatic delusions: False beliefs about one’s medical condition or physical defect.
- Erotomanic delusions: Suspicions that another person loves them.
Persecutory delusion symptoms
People who suffer from persecutory delusions often believe they’re being punished or they’re accused of doing terrible things they didn’t do. The beliefs that a person holds are based on strange or irrational reasoning, which affects the way they think and behave.
Symptoms of persecution delusions include:
- Afraid of everyday situations
- Unreasonably concerned
- Reports often to authorities
- Extremely distressed
- Excess worry
- Searching for safety constantly
People may use more unrealistic reasoning to defend their delusions if their beliefs are contested.
Read: Delusions of Grandeur
Examples of persecutory delusions
Persecutory delusions might cause a person to say such things as:
- My coworkers try to get me fired by hacking into my email.
- My neighbor plans on stealing my car.
- My neighbors keep putting thoughts into my head.
- It’s because he wants to hurt me that the mailman is spying on my house.
- I’m going to be kidnapped by the airplane above us.
- They all think I want to cause harm.
These things will be stated as factual statements. There may also be vague language and agitation.
Difference between paranoid and persecutory delusions
Persecutory delusions and paranoia are technically different states of mind. Persons who suffer from paranoia feel overly doubtful and afraid of others. Such feelings make trusting others difficult.
Paranoia can lead to persecution delusions when it gets extreme. Despite being presented with opposing evidence, those who feel paranoid become fixated on their beliefs.
Read: Truman Show Delusion
Persecutory delusions causes and risk factors
Persecutor delusions may occur with a variety of mental disorders, including schizophrenia and others.
The distorted sense of reality characteristic of schizophrenia is the hallmark of the disorder. Delusions and hallucinations are common symptoms.
Schizophrenia patients experience persecutory delusions more commonly than any other kind of delusions. Schizophrenia is considered to have this symptom, also called paranoid schizophrenia.
It may also manifest this way:
- Disorganized thinking
- Abnormal motor behavior
- Disinterest in daily activities
- Lack of hygienic habits
- Inability to express emotions
- Social withdrawal
People with bipolar disorder may have persecution delusions. People with this disorder experience extreme emotional changes. It is possible to experience depression, mania, or hypomania with bipolar disorder, depending upon its type.
There may be symptoms such as:
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Disinterest in everyday activities
- Lack of energy
- Self-esteem issues
- Sleeping too much or insomnia
- Suicidal thoughts
Some signs of a manic episode might be:
- An increase in energy
- Impulsive decisions
- Rapid speech
- Lack of concentration
- Racing thoughts
Persecutory delusions are usually associated with manic episodes.
Read: Schizophreniform Disorder
A person who suffers from schizoaffective disorder exhibits symptoms both of schizophrenia and of mood disorder. The two types are:
- Bipolar type: It consists of both manic and depressive episodes as well as schizophrenia symptoms.
- Depressive type: Patients with this type of schizophrenia experience both manic and depressive symptoms.
The symptoms of a delusional disorder include persecutory delusions. There may be other symptoms as well.
- Speech difficulties
- Strange behavior
- Depressed or worthless feelings
- Poor personal hygiene
Major depressive disorder with psychotic features
Depression may also lead to persecutory delusions. This occurs usually when an individual has major depressive disorder with psychotic features, previously known as psychotic depression.
People suffering from severe depression are often miserable. There can also be other symptoms, such as:
A psychotic episode is usually associated with this type of depression. Delusions and hallucinations are common aspects of an episode, which can include persecutor delusions.
It may be because one feels worthless and guilty about the situation. Some people believe others want to hurt them if they feel they deserve it.
Read: Migraine with Aura
It is possible that a person may have delusions that cannot be explained by a medical condition, mental illness or drugs. Such a condition is known as delusional disorder.
Persecutory delusions can be experienced by people with delusional disorder. When someone has at least one delusional experience for at least one month, delusional disorder is diagnosed. These symptoms are also present:
- Hallucinations connected to the delusions
- Low mood
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Traumatic or frightening events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD causes anxiety and fear that persists even after the event. There is a possibility of persecutory illusions with PTSD. Normally, this occurs when a threatening person or group was involved in the trauma.
The following symptoms can also occur:
- Staying away from situations that bring back memories
- Distrust in others
Read: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Here are some diagnostic tools doctors may use to identify the cause of persecutory delusions:
- Physical exam: Medical professionals will check your physical health for signs associated with persecutory delusions.
- Screenings for substances: Symptoms similar to those experienced when drinking and using drugs may be considered in the screening process.
- Imaging tests: CT scans or MRIs can be performed to help decipher your symptoms.
- Psychiatric evaluation: If you have delusions, hallucinations, or feeling such, a mental health professional will ask about them. You will also be reviewed if certain diagnostic criteria apply to the symptoms.
Persecutory delusions treatment
Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and the underlying cause. In general, it includes:
Your doctor may prescribe you medication to ease your symptoms, including:
- Antipsychotics: These medications are used to manage hallucinations and delusions.
- Mood stabilizers: The dosage of mood stabilizers may be increased if mood changes are extreme.
- Antidepressants: It is prescribed to treat depression, including feelings of sadness.
Psychotherapy involves managing thinking and delusions. You’ll speak with a mental health professional about your beliefs. You’ll compare them with reality with the professional’s help.
Its purpose is to:
- Control delusions
- Improve reality recognition
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Enhance social skills
The therapy may be individual, group, or a combination of both. It may involve you and your family.
Read: Anxiety Breathing Exercise
Symptoms that are severe might require hospitalization. Your chances of needing hospitalization are higher if:
- Psychosis is a condition in which you are detached from reality and incapable of caring for yourself
- You are acting in a dangerous way
- Feeling suicidal
You can stay safe in a hospital thanks to the team of healthcare professionals.
How to help someone with persecutory delusions
You may feel uncertain about how to respond to someone suffering from persecutory delusions.
Here are some tips:
- Listen: When you listen to a person, regardless of how difficult that is, you make them feel respected and understood.
- Don’t support delusions and doubts: Delusional people will believe their illusions even more if they are disputed. The delusion is reinforced by playing along with it.
- Redirect the situation: You should calmly share your opposing viewpoint rather than fighting or encouraging their delusions. You can mention that the driver could be shopping at a store if someone thinks a parked car is spying on them.
- Be supportive: Even when delusions are under control, we need to be supportive and nonjudgmental.
Read: Stress Management Techniques
Persecutory delusions prevent someone from seeing the truth. There is a strong belief that individuals or groups intending to hurt them. Often, these beliefs are absurd or absurd in nature.
Psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are frequently associated with persecution delusions. You should support your loved ones who might be suffering from delusions by encouraging them to seek mental health treatment.