Supporting a Loved One Experiencing Severe Paranoia

Throughout life, nearly all of us will experience paranoia to some degree. For example, we may feel as if someone is watching us when there is no one around. At one point or another, we also may feel as if we are being threatened in some way without having sufficient evidence to support that claim. These common experiences of paranoia can lead us to misunderstand the paranoia that exists alongside a mental health or substance use disorder (SUD). To effectively support a loved one struggling with severe paranoia, we must first understand what paranoia is as well as the harm it can pose if left untreated.

At 12 South Recovery, we specialize in the treatment of addiction, mental health disorders, and various underlying symptoms including paranoia. More specifically, we offer several outpatient treatment programs. These include general outpatient, intensive outpatient (IOP), and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) that can be customized to fit the individualized needs of those experiencing severe paranoia. Becoming familiar with available treatment options is a step in the right direction as you work to support your loved one to recover from severe paranoia and other symptoms.

Defining Severe Paranoia

First and foremost, education will play a major role in your ability to effectively support your loved one struggling with severe paranoia. According to an article in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, “For individuals experiencing paranoia, defined as a belief that others are intentionally trying to harm the individual, the symptoms can range from limited social interaction with peers to verbally or physically lashing out at loved ones or strangers.” In other words, paranoia exists on a continuum, and the resulting behaviors may not be what you expect.

Moreover, as the article highlights, “Paranoia is associated with significant suffering and additional challenges in caring for oneself, such as social isolation, suicidality, and poor treatment compliance.” When working to understand paranoia on a spectrum, it is important to understand these consequences as general harms of paranoia. Thus, when considering the implications of severe paranoia, such consequences may be even more extreme.

The Cause of Severe Paranoia

Oftentimes, severe paranoia is associated with paranoid personality disorder (PPD). According to an article published in Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports:

A psychological theory of paranoia and PPD has been built around the observation that PPD individuals are characterized by negative emotionality, hypervigilance, cognitive rigidity, and an aggressive, hostile disposition. The dominant theme in psychodynamic and contemporary psychological approach is externalized hostility, triggered by a vulnerable, fragile sense of self in the context of stressful social interactions.

Recognizing these deeper characteristics of PPD can help shed light on the condition while challenging misinformation and stigma of those who may be struggling with it. Yet, paranoia is not solely the result of PPD. Rather, your loved one may be experiencing severe paranoia as a result of something else.

According to an article in Nature Human Behaviour, “Indeed, paranoia has now been reliably associated with living in areas of low social cohesion, worry, sleep deprivation, victimization, and early life adversity, abuse and trauma. Paranoia has also been found to co-occur with general cognitive biases relating to causal and probabilistic reasoning and belief flexibility.” Thus, identifying the underlying cause of your loved one’s paranoia is a critical element in healing from it.

Supporting Your Loved One in Treatment

In addition to learning about your loved one’s unique experiences with paranoia, motivating your loved one to enter treatment is also important in effectively supporting your loved one. While there are many treatment options available, your loved one may benefit the most from participating in a residential or partial hospitalization program (PHP). Both of these treatment options offer the highest level of structure and intensity of treatment. These programs can provide intimate guidance and professional support as your loved one learns to navigate their cognitions and distortions.

Residential Treatment for Severe Paranoia

In a fully residential program, your loved one would reside at the treatment facility as they participate in treatment. To best support them, you could visit them (if visitations are allowed) and offer to help with their personal responsibilities while they are in treatment.

Partial Hospitalization and Other Outpatient Programs

If your loved one attends a PHP or another outpatient program, however, you can be more involved in their care. For instance, you can schedule weekly check-ins or meet-ups with your loved one to discuss their progress and remind them that you are available and thinking of them.

Family Therapy for Severe Paranoia

Additionally, many treatment centers offer family programs and family therapy as part of outpatient programming. In these treatment programs, families can work directly with a therapist to best support their loved one in treatment as everyone heals and grows together. At 12 South Recovery, we can ensure that these options are part of your loved one’s treatment plan.

Furthermore, if your loved one’s paranoia causes them to distance themself from you, it may be best to give them space until they are able to reach back out to you. After they begin treatment and engage with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two, you may have a better chance to reunite.

Watching a loved one struggle with severe paranoia can be a devastating experience. If you are looking for ways to support your loved one, consider learning more about their condition and helping motivate them to enter treatment. Those struggling with severe paranoia must participate in a professional treatment program to establish and sustain recovery. A combination of medication and therapy will help your loved one find grounding and overcome their symptoms. At 12 South Recovery, we offer family programs and family therapy. These family healing modalities enable all family members to find healing for themselves and effectively support their loved one. Learn more about our outpatient programs by calling (888) 830-8374 today. 

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