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Persecutory delusions are characteristic symptoms of a type of paranoid psychosis. They are described by psychologists as unwarranted fears, beliefs, or hallucinations that other people are out to cause harm to the individual. Most people who experience such delusions are still able to function normally in their daily lives, though they may constantly feel anxious and irritable. Delusional disorders can usually be managed with a combination of medication and counseling, though it can be extremely difficult to convince a person with persecutory delusions to accept help from others.
Some people experience delusions concurrently with other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, though most people who have persecutory thoughts are otherwise healthy. An individual may feel that he or she is constantly being watched or followed by others who want to do them harm. A sufferer might think that coworkers are plotting against him or her, or that government spies are constantly performing surveillance. Delusions may include fears of being poisoned at restaurants or being attacked by strangers when out for a walk or a drive.
A person who has persecutory delusions often creates entire belief systems or mental constructs to justify his or her fears. In the mind of a paranoid individual, beliefs are rationalized to the point that he or she is absolutely convinced that threats are real and imminent. It is very common for delusional people to make frequent calls to the police and file civil lawsuits against others, even though they are not actually being harassed or harmed.
Medical doctors and psychologists are not certain of the exact causes of persecutory delusions. Research suggest that genetics play a significant role in the development of delusional disorders, as many people have familial histories of mental illness. These delusions may also be linked to the same chemical imbalances in the brain that cause depression and schizophrenia. Finally, some psychologists believe excessive stress can cause persecutory delusions.
Doctors can diagnose delusional disorders by asking questions about symptoms and conducting brain imaging tests to check for abnormalities. Once a patient has been diagnosed, he or she is usually given antipsychotic medication and scheduled to attend regular meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Psychotherapy can be very effective if a patient is willing to be open and honest with his or her psychologist. Support and reassurance from loved ones is also important to help the individual feel comfortable and begin building trust.