Help Paranoid People

Helping someone with paranoia can be difficult. Paranoid people don’t see the world the way most others do, and it’s all too easy to alienate them or make them feel suspicious of you. Sensitivity and understanding are the keys to helping a paranoid person get the treatment they need without making them feel like you’re judging them negatively. One of the best ways you can help a paranoid person is to reassure them when they are struggling with delusional thoughts. You can also help them develop long-term coping strategies and encourage them to seek professional help.


Dealing with Delusional Thoughts

  1. Avoid arguing with the person. When your friend or family member expresses delusional thoughts, listen to them, but don’t argue. The delusion seems completely real to them, so you won’t be able to talk them into believing something else.[1]
    • Arguing can even make the situation worse, since it will make the person feel like no one understands them.
  2. Avoid affirming the person’s paranoia. Focus on understanding how the person is feeling. Show empathy for their emotions, but don’t say anything that will reinforce their delusion.[2]
    • For instance, if your friend tells you that kidnappers are following her, don’t play along. Instead, say something like, “That sounds really scary, but I’ll make sure you’re safe.”
    • Without trying to change the person’s mind, let them know that you aren’t perceiving what they are. For instance, say, “No, I didn’t see any people following us.”
  3. Ask questions. See if you can get the person to tell you more about their fears. This can help you figure out where the delusion is coming from and give you a better idea of how to reassure the person. The person may also feel better after talking to you.[3]
    • Ask an open-ended question like, “Why do you think the kidnappers are following you?” or “Do you want to tell me more?”
  4. Help the person feel safer and more comfortable. If something in the environment is frightening them, take the person somewhere else. Offer them some food or water. Reassure them that you are not afraid, and tell them you’ll make sure nothing bad happens to them.[4]
    • For instance, if you’re in a building with a family member who thinks someone is sending them messages over the PA system, take them outside.
    • If the person takes medication, ask them when they last took a dose. If it was longer ago than the bottle instructs, make sure they take a dose as soon as possible.

Building Good Mental Health Habits

  1. Help the person maintain a positive state of mind. When you’re around your friend or family member, model positive thinking and optimism for them. Offer to help them come up with some mantras or affirmations to use when they start to feel paranoid.[5]
    • For instance, the person might find it helpful to repeat something like, “Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to think about me,” or “Even though I feel scared, I’m not really in danger.”
    • Encourage the person to write down the mantra and keep it with them so they can read it when they need it.
  2. Help the person put their paranoid thoughts into perspective. Invite the person to share their thoughts with you or someone else they trust if they need a reality check. Encourage them to give people the benefit of the doubt if they aren’t sure about someone’s intentions towards them.[6]
    • This strategy works best for people with mild paranoia who can accept that their judgment is sometimes unsound. Severely paranoid people may not be willing to ask for other people’s perspectives.
  3. Encourage the person to adopt balanced habits. A healthy lifestyle can make mental health issues easier to manage. Help your friend or family member find ways to cut down on stress, get enough rest, and maintain good diet and exercise habits.[7]
    • For example, including physical activity as a part of their daily routine can help improve their mood and boost cognitive functioning that may be impaired with paranoia.
  4. Encourage the person to contribute in areas of life where they excel. Many people with paranoia-related issues have unique talents or a successful career. Recognize the areas where your friend or family member shines, and encourage them to keep doing things they enjoy and are good at.[8]
    • Let's say your friend is really creative. You might encourage them to submit their artwork to a local art contest to keep them occupied and focus on positive activities.
  5. Prepare for crisis situations. If your friend or family member has an illness like schizophrenia, help them come up with an emergency plan when they’re stable. Gather important contact information like their doctor’s phone number, and discuss who will take care of any children or pets they have if they are hospitalized.[9]
    • Have the person keep this information with them at all times, such as written on a card or on a piece of paper.

Helping a Paranoid Person Find Treatment

  1. Distinguish between paranoia and anxiety. Paranoia can look similar to anxiety on the surface, but these issues are actually very different. Paranoia involves delusional thoughts, while anxiety does not. The two disorders require different treatments, so it’s important not to mix them up.[10]
    • For instance, an anxious person might worry that they have a disease, while a paranoid person might be convinced that their doctor purposely gave them a disease.
    • Anxiety is much more common than paranoia. Someone who is anxious will appear to be more alert in case of danger, but someone who is paranoid will appear to expect danger at any moment.
  2. Avoid trying to diagnose or treat the paranoid person yourself. If your friend or family member doesn’t have a diagnosis yet, it’s important that they get one from a professional. Self-diagnoses are often inaccurate, and the person could seek the wrong kind of treatment as a result.[11]
  3. Encourage the person to see doctor or psychotherapist. Your friend or family member may need medication, psychotherapy, or both to manage their paranoia. Urge them to talk to their doctor about their treatment options. If they have trouble making it to their appointments, offer to help by giving them a ride or watching their kids.[12]
    • Convincing a paranoid person to see a doctor can be a challenge. They may not trust medical professionals. If the person doesn’t want to seek treatment, don’t push them too hard, or they may become suspicious of you, too.
    • If your friend is resistant, you might say, "I know you don't think anything is wrong, but it would really give me peace of mind if you saw a doctor. Will you just go to make me feel better. If everything checks out, I'll stop bugging you." This will make the request about you rather than them and that might make it easier for them to accept.
  4. Call 911 if you think anyone is in danger. If your friend or family member starts having bizarre delusions, or if they threaten to hurt themselves or others, they need medical attention right away. Don’t wait and see if they get better on their own – call 911, or the emergency services department. The hospital is the safest place for them until they are stable again.[13]
    • A non-bizarre delusion is something that could plausibly happen in reality. A bizarre delusion, on the other hand, couldn’t happen in the real world.
    • For instance, if someone believed that aliens had given them the ability to fly, they would be having a bizarre delusion.

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Sources and Citations