What can friends and family do to help?

This section is for friends and family who want to support someone they know with paranoia.

If you have a relative or friend who is experiencing paranoia, you may find it to be alarming and upsetting. You might feel unsure of how to offer support, particularly if you do not agree with the thoughts that they are expressing. Feeling this way is understandable and, although it might seem frightening at first, there are ways you can offer support.

Do not dismiss their fears

Even if you do not agree that your relative or friend is under threat or at risk, try to understand how they are feeling. It is important to recognise that the feelings they have are real to them, even if you feel their beliefs are unfounded. Focus on the level of distress or alarm that they are experiencing and offer them reassurance and comfort. It is possible to recognise your friend or family member’s alarm and acknowledge their feelings without agreeing with the reason they feel this way.

“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.”

Consider if there is a basis for their beliefs

Many paranoid thoughts will have developed from a real situation. Working with your friend or family member, try exploring whether there is basis for their fears. This can help both of you understand how the fearful thoughts have developed, and can also be useful in discovering where the thoughts and fears they have are improbable. You may find your point of view reassures the person and reinforces to them the possibility that what they fear may not actually be happening.

Respect privacy and boundaries

It is important to remember that your friend or relative has a right to their own boundaries. They might choose to share with you only a small amount of detail about their thoughts, or they might disclose a lot of their fears. The amount that they tell you might change, depending on how they are feeling. Accept the boundaries that they feel comfortable with, and be aware that they might feel embarrassed about things they have said when they are unwell.

Get support for yourself

It is important to look after yourself as well as looking after the person experiencing paranoia. It can be very distressing to see someone you care about behaving differently from usual and putting themselves at risk. You might find it helpful to have counselling or go to a support group. This can provide the opportunity to talk about your feelings, what the relationship is like for you and what you can do to look after yourself.

Next page