Delusions (dee-LOO-zhunz) are one or more false beliefi that a person hoals despite either lack of evidence that the belief is true or clear evidence that the belief is not true.
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Imagine being completely convinced that someone is following you, to the point where you even call the police several times. Or imagine believing that your friend is spreading horrible rumors behind your back, even though there is no reason to think she is. Or imagine thinking that you are about to release a new hit record, or that there is something physically wrong with you when your doctor has found otherwise.
These thoughts may sound ridiculous, but they help to illustrate what it means to be "delusional." It's normal for people to have occasional thoughts that, for example, a boss, teacher, or friend is "out to get them." Delusions are different, however. A person with delusions holds on to unfounded beliefs for a long period of time (at least more than a month) and absolutely believes that they are true in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Delusions often are classified into the following subtypes:
- erotomanic (air-ROT-oh-MAN-ik): People with erotomanic delusions falsely believe that someone is in love with them and make repeated attempts to establish contact through phone calls, letters, or stalking.
- grandiose (gran-dee-OSE): People with grandiose delusions falsely believe that they have a great talent or have made an important discovery. These so-called "delusions of grandeur" involve wild exaggeration of one's own importance, wealth, power, or talents.
- persecution: People with delusions of persecution may falsely believe that they are being plotted against, spied on, lied about, or harassed. They may repeatedly try to get justice through appeals to the court system and other government agencies.
- jealous: This type of delusion involves a false belief that a spouse or significant other is cheating, despite a lack of supporting evidence. People with jealous delusions sometimes resort to violence.
- somatic (so-MAT-tik): This type of delusion relates to a bodily function. For example, people with somatic delusions may falsely believe that they have a physical deformity, an unusual odor, or some kind of germ in their bodies.
Delusional Disorder Versus Schizophrenia
Delusions often are a symptom of serious psychotic (sy-KOT-ik) disorders, the most common being schizophrenia (skitz-oh-FREN-ee-uh). Besides delusions, other symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations * , disorganized thoughts and speech, and bizarre and inappropriate behavior. Typically, psychotic disorders affect people in late adolescence or early adulthood.
* hallucination (huh-LOO-sih-NAY-shun) Is something that a person senses that is not caused by a real outside event. It can involve any of the senses: hearing, smell, sight, taste, or touch.
Not all delusions are caused by psychotic disorders, however. When a person has delusions, and the doctor can find no psychotic disorder that is to blame, the doctor may diagnose a delusional disorder. Unlike schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, delusional disorder usually occurs in middle age (ages 35 to 55) or later adult life. Also, it generally does not lead to severe problems with everyday functioning and thinking. Many people with delusional disorder can keep their jobs, and, on the whole, their personalities do not change. However, once delusions occur, the false beliefs often prove to be a long-term problem. Some people with delusions can become dangerous or violent, threatening harm to themselves or others.
Treatment for delusions usually involves regular meetings with a doctor who specializes in treating mental disorders. People with delusions tend to resist treatment at first and deny that there is any problem. The doctor needs to establish a cooperative relationship with the person, listening to his or her thoughts, easing any fears, and suggesting ways of coping. Some medications, particularly those used to treat depression and psychotic disorders, may help as well. Hospitalization may be necessary if the person shows signs of dangerous behavior or suicidal tendencies as a reaction to the delusional beliefs.
Internet Mental Health. This is an online mental health encyclopedia
founded by a Canadian psychiatrist. It provides specific information
about delusional disorder and schizophrenia.