This section is for friends and family who want to support someone they know with paranoia.
If you have a relative or friend who may be experiencing paranoid thoughts, it can be difficult to know how to help. You might feel unsure of how to react, particularly if you don't agree with the beliefs they are expressing.
- Consider if their beliefs might be justified. It's easy to dismiss thoughts as paranoid if you don't agree with them or they don't match your experience. It's even easier if your loved one has experienced other paranoid thoughts or delusions in the past. But it's important to check that you're not making assumptions.
- Consider if there is a basis for their beliefs. Even if you feel that their thoughts aren't justified, it's worth remembering that many paranoid thoughts will have developed from anxieties about a real situation. Try to explore whether there is a basis for their fears. This can help both of you understand how the thoughts have developed.
The most helpful thing for me is to be taken seriously. On some level I know my beliefs can't be real, yet to me they are utterly terrifying. Treating the fear as very real, even if you can't go along with my reasons for the fear, is so important.
- Talk openly. Paranoid beliefs can make people feel isolated but talking about them can help reduce stress. You might find that your point of view reassures them and gives them a different perspective.
- Don't dismiss their fears. Even if you don't agree that they are under threat or at risk, try to understand how they are feeling. It's important to recognise that the feelings are very real, even if you feel the beliefs they are based on are unfounded.
- Focus on their feelings. Focus on the level of distress they are feeling and offer comfort. It's possible to recognise their alarm and acknowledge their feelings without agreeing with the reason they feel that way.
[It helps to] deal with the agitation by focusing on the feelings... [and] giving general comforting phrases such as 'All is well, there is nothing to worry about, you are safe.' Providing distraction activities can also help to break the cycle of paranoia.
- Support them to seek help. You can't force anyone to get help if they don't want it, so it's important to reassure your loved one that it's ok to ask for help, and that there is help out there. See our pages on how to support someone else to seek help for their mental health for more information.
- Respect their wishes. Even if you feel that you know what's best, it's important to respect their wishes and don't try and take over or make decisions without them.
- Know how to get help in an emergency. If your loved one hasn't been able to talk to you about their experiences, they may become very unwell before you realise they need help. If you are worried that your family member or friend is becoming very unwell or experiencing a mental health crisis, you could suggest that they use their crisis plan (if they have one). Our information on crisis services explains more about the help available to support someone in crisis.
- Look after yourself too. Seeing someone you care about experiencing paranoia can be distressing or even frightening. Our information on how to cope when supporting someone else and how to improve your mental wellbeing can help you look after yourself too.
Looking after someone with paranoia is incredibly draining… having the same conversations day in day out. I learnt to be very clear and concise in my conversations with my father, to be very boundaried and always do what I said I was going to do, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
This information was published in November 2016. We will revise it in 2019.