Paranoia is thinking and feeling like you are being threatened in some way, even if there is no evidence, or very little evidence, that you are. Paranoid thoughts can also be described as delusions. There are lots of different kinds of threat you might be scared and worried about.
Paranoid thoughts could also be exaggerated suspicions. For example, someone made a nasty comment about you once, and you believe that they are directing a hate campaign against you.
Paranoia is a symptom of some mental health problems but not a diagnosis itself.
Paranoid thoughts can be anything from very mild to very severe and these experiences can be quite different for everybody. This depends on how much:
you believe the paranoid thoughts
you think about the paranoid thoughts
the paranoid thoughts upset you
the paranoid thoughts interfere with your everyday life
Lots of people experience mild paranoia at some point in their lives – maybe up to a third of us. This is usually called non-clinical paranoia. These kind of paranoid thoughts often change over time – so you might realise that they are not justified or just stop having those particular thoughts.
At the other end of the spectrum is very severe paranoia (also called clinical paranoia or persecutory delusions). If your paranoia is more severe then you are more likely to need treatment.
Paranoia can be one symptom of these mental health problems:
paranoid schizophrenia – a type of schizophrenia where you experience extreme paranoid thoughts
paranoid personality disorder
If your paranoid thoughts are causing you distress then you may want to seek treatment. You may also be offered treatment for paranoia as part of your treatment for a mental health problem.
The first step is usually to visit your GP. Our information on seeking help for a mental health problem can help you speak to your doctor about your mental health.
Talking therapies can help you understand your experiences and develop coping strategies to deal with them.
The most common form of talking therapy for paranoia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). During CBT, you will examine the way you think and the evidence for your beliefs and look for different possible interpretations. CBT can also help reduce worry and anxiety that may influence and increase feelings of paranoia.
Many other forms of talking therapy are available, including:
family (or systemic) therapy
Talking therapies are free on the NHS, but waiting times may vary and can be long. You may choose to see a therapist privately if you can afford it. The British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) have a list of trained and registered therapists.
Arts and creative therapies use arts-based activities to help you express how you are feeling, in a therapeutic environment. These types of therapy can be helpful if you are having difficulty talking about your experience.
If you have a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder, you are likely to be offered an antipsychotic drug to reduce your symptoms. Antipsychotics may reduce paranoid thoughts or make you feel less threatened by them.
If you have anxiety or depression, your GP may offer you antidepressants or minor tranquillisers. These can help you feel less worried about the thoughts and may stop them getting worse. See our pages on medication for more general information.