How to Help Someone with Paranoia

Paranoia is the irrational feeling that someone or something is out to get you, or that some kind of misfortune is targeting you, without any evidence to back it up.

This is a common symptom of psychosis, especially schizophrenia, but it can stand on its own as paranoid personality disorder. Paranoia also commonly occurs due to substance abuse, and it’s been frequently reported among people who use cannabis.

Regardless of what’s causing it, paranoia can be a serious and intrusive problem. Knowing how to help someone with paranoia can help you get a loved one into treatment early enough to make a difference for them.

Let’s discuss how to deal with paranoia, how to help someone with paranoia and the best next steps.

Recognizing Paranoia: Understanding the Signs

Between 2.3% and 4.4% of the American public is estimated to have some form of paranoia that rises to the level of disorder. If you’ve never seen pathological paranoia in action, it can be difficult to know whether a person’s negative thoughts and emotions are serious and permanent or if the feelings will pass.

While only a professional can properly diagnose paranoid personality disorder or paranoid schizophrenia, there are some signs a person’s paranoia is becoming an issue for them. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for how many symptoms a person has to show or how serious the signs have to be, but you should generally look out for these behaviors:

  • A belief that other people have hidden motives or are plotting against them
  • A suspicion that family and friends are disloyal or not to be trusted
  • Difficulty working with other people because of suspicions or fear of others’ motives
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism, especially of attempts to dispel the paranoia
  • A quickness to anger and unwillingness to calm down when agitated

Maintaining Open Communication

If you’re dealing with someone showing the signs of paranoia, it’s important to remain calm and maintain open communication. Talking can be the best approach to managing the symptoms of paranoia. If there’s no underlying disorder, such as schizophrenia, your loved one might just need some reassurance, which can come from talking with a trusted friend.

Providing Reassurance and Validation

Communication is key, but it can be hard to figure out how to talk to someone with paranoid delusions. Prioritize reassurance and validation, and avoid judgment or hostility. Negative reactions can drive the person deeper into their shell or even make you a target of paranoid speculation. Display a calm, rational demeanor and clear willingness to listen and help — the person experiencing paranoia is much more likely to follow your lead.

This isn’t the same as validating a delusion. In truth, your gentle unwillingness to go along with an irrational and paranoid belief may be the lifeline your loved one needs most.

Don’t agree with a paranoid person’s irrational fears or suspicions, and take care not to join them in their fears, as your reaction could validate harmful thoughts they aren’t entirely able to manage on their own.

Instead, focus on creating a safe and comfortable space for the person to talk out their feelings, asking appropriate questions as they go. If the paranoia is not too severe and you don’t have reason to fear for their safety or your own, you can hear them out and reassure them that you’re taking them seriously. Try to walk the line between understanding and showing them you’re not convinced by disjointed logic.

Encouraging Professional Help

There’s only so much you can do with talking and listening. At a certain point, your loved one may be unable to shake paranoid thoughts or emotions or may start to show signs of a more serious issue behind the paranoid thoughts.

If you notice any of these behaviors, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help. Warning signs that you might need to involve a professional include:

  • Threats of harm: Paranoid thoughts sometimes slip into threats of retribution or preemptive action against a person or even thoughts of self-harm. It’s vital that you reach out for help to prevent a loved one hurting themselves, others or you.
  • Signs of intoxication: Paranoia is sometimes the result of substance use. While the risk of overdose is low for marijuana and hallucinogens, alcohol-induced paranoia might go along with dangerous binge drinking. Don’t hesitate to call for medical assistance if you suspect overdose.
  • Rapid or uncharacteristic changes: Even if the person you’re with has shown mild paranoia in the past, a sudden increase in intensity could signal trouble. Any time a loved one dramatically changes their behavior, it could be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Creating a Supportive and Safe Environment

More than anything, a person dealing with paranoia needs a safe and supportive environment to start the recovery process, no matter the cause. The Mental Health Hotline can help you find the local resources you need to start the journey to healing. Call today for a free, confidential consultation and referral.