way out of paranoia
self help group for people with extreme paranoia has been operating
successfully for eight months in Sheffield. Adam
(A shortened version of this article appeared in the Guardian)
Molloy used to believe his wife was poisoning him with heroin and
cocaine. He was convinced she and his friends were spiking his cigarettes,
drink and food with the drugs.
fears became all-pervasive to the extent that Molloy became locked
in a conspiratorial world in which he feared church leaders were
secret drug barons, and cameras in his room monitored his every
thought everything in the world was connected to the world of drugs,"
recalls Molloy. "I
became very withdrawn and lost a lot of weight."
thought my whole family was involved, and it got to the point that
I had to leave my wife and two children."
Molloy went to see a psychiatrist, he was told he was suffering
from psychotic, delusional thoughts and depression. Molloy was prescribed
medication, and visits from a community psychiatric nurse were arranged.
was all three years ago when Molloy was 32. His confidence shattered,
Molloy, who still experiences bouts of paranoia, has been in and
out of work ever since.
eight months ago Molloy fell back on his limited social work experience
and decided to establish a community-based self-help group for people,
like him, experiencing extreme paranoia.
creation of the Sheffield paranoia self-help and support group,
the first service of its kind in the UK, was a markedly audacious
initiative. Moreover, it is run not by clinicians, but by Molloy
and former psychiatric patient Peter Bullimore, the unpaid chair
of voluntary mental health group, the Sheffield Hearing Voices group.
pair have been helping 16 people meet every week in a former school
building in Hillsborough, Sheffield. The group members, most of
whom have psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia, share the
paranoias, conspiracy theories and bizarre beliefs which have such
a stranglehold on their lives.
vary. One group member fears police constantly survey him; another
believes someone enters his house and subtly moves household items;
one man suspects a Freddy Krueger-like monster lurks in the back
of a van outside his house.
group's humble, but vital, service is that it offers space in which
members can talk freely and openly about their beliefs without fear
of ridicule or of being pathologised.
of us have been talking about how we came to be paranoid, the stressors
and vulnerabilities in our life" explains Molloy. "We
also might do a bit of reality checking, to test our beliefs."
the most important thing is that the group creates a safe place
for people to talk about their paranoia. If people do not have such
a safe place, they become isolated and the paranoia can get worse."
45, had himself been diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1992. His paranoia
revolved around fears he was being spied on. He would stop cars
he thought were following him and quiz their drivers.
traditional psychiatric settings such beliefs are not talked openly
about and are put down as an illness," asserts Bullimore.
ended up on 25 tablets of medication a day. As I see it I was drugged
just to shut me up."
traditional psychiatry, prolonged paranoia or bizarre beliefs are
"delusions", a classic symptom of schizophrenia. First
line of treatment is medication. The detailed content of such delusions
are usually judged to be of little medical interest.
a study in the British Medical Journal last year revealed psychiatrists,
faced with patients talking about their delusions during consultations,
would feel embarrassed, and would hesitate, or even avoid, responding
the average time psychiatrists spent discussing such psychotic symptoms
with patients was just 67 seconds.
study concluded that psychiatrists' "reluctance and discomfort"
when talking about bizarre beliefs was "apparent".
co-author Tim Burns, professor of community psychiatry at Barts
and the London School of Medicine, believes such discomfort was
less to do with psychiatrists' interpersonal ineptitudes, but because
they preferred to spend time precious consultation time discussing
issues they felt were more pressing - such as housing and social
relationships. Psychiatrists were therefore eager to steer conversations
away from a patient's delusions, argues Burns.
adds: "While psychiatrists of my generation were trained not
to talk about the content of delusions as it was believed to make
them worse, psychiatrists are nowadays more sceptical of such a
Phil Thomas, consultant psychiatrist with Bradford's assertive outreach
team, is convinced the study flags up a fundamental flaw in his
profession's practice - that discussing the content of patients'
delusions is judged to be of little therapeutic importance.
by and large do not respect such experiences," says Thomas.
"Yet, so often a person's experiences are related to all the
other factors [such as housing and personal relationships] which
is why it is imperative that we explore them."
Sheffield group, which now takes referrals from psychiatrists and
GPs, has won the interest and support of Thomas and other mental
health professionals challenging traditional psychiatric opinion.
Some were among the launch last month of the Paranoia Network which
aims to disseminate the progress of the group around the country.
in July next year Manchester Metropolitan University will be inviting
people effected by paranoia to speak in the first International
Conference on Paranoia.
professionals and service users already hope the network will mirror
the success of the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) which, over the
last 15 years, has seen the launch of 150 self help groups for people
who hear voices.
HVN encourages people, again often diagnosed with schizophrenia,
to "accept" their voices as real and meaningful and to
find ways of coping and living with them.
psychologist Rufus May, also of the Bradford assertive outreach
team, hopes the Paranoia Network, like the HVN, will ultimately
encourage professionals to re-examine how they work with people
was himself diagnosed with schizophrenia when aged 18 and he entertained
theories he was a spy and the television broadcasted messages to
him. His psychiatrists never talked through with him his troubling
remember a friend once saying to me you are not mad, just a bit
paranoid," jokes May, a passionate supporter of service-user
I think it is important to have safe places like that offered by
the paranoia group. They start to influence services and ultimately
have an impact on the culture of services. That, I think, is a good
Network is on 0114 271 8210
For International Paranoia Conference details go to www.asylumonline.net/paranoianetwork.htm
20 years of misery
Michelle Prenderville, volunteer
January 9, 2008
I am so relieved to hear finally at long, long last that I and others
will get effective support from peer support in this enduring state
that I have suffered endlessly for some 20 years or so.
can only tell you, Peter and Chris, having met you both that I can
say, with hand on my heart, that seeing there's a way out of the
delusional, horrible fog that has debilatated my working and social
life for so, so long.
seeing the news of this network reminds me of a Christy Moore song
called 'You Couldn't Have Called At A Better Time'. I've suffered
unrelentlessly and now, finally, after typing in a search with the
words 'paranoia network, selfhelp', I came across the very dose
that I needed more than ever.
I will pass on details of the site to all those that suffer from
the raw scourge of paranoia and those in deep despair tormented
from delusions. Like Chris and Peter I have felt for so long the
anguish and day-and-night torment of beliefs that I persistently,
in major and minor bouts, derailed. Sadly, I have driven the kindest
and patient and loving people into a state of 'what the name of
god do we do with Michelle now'?
up all the solid work you're doing.
of their power
Albert Kashner, USA
July 31, 2008
been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia for 30 years. For most
of that time, I''ve accepted the prevailing wisdom that my delusions
were meaningless symptoms of disease.
recently experimented with considering my delusions real and meaningful
by writing them down during my most recent psychotic episode. I
find I have been able to put them in a larger perspective by reading
them and reflecting on them. I feel this has robbed them of some
of their power to intimidate and control me.
It seems that talking about one's paranoid beliefs in a supportive
context like that provided by The Paranoid Network would provide
would love to see something like this available in the USA.
Will I ever
let go of my persecutory belief?
Jacob Houghton, unemployed, England, UK
May 8, 2009
have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia just recently by
a consultant psychiatrist. The consultant who was overseeing me
before he diagnosed me with a paranoid personality disorder.
psychotic episode in the summer of 2006 led me to believe I was
being investigated by the police in conjunction with MI5 or some
kind of agency that involved a massive operation to survey me and
push me over to the edge and kill myself.
believed my flat was booby-trapped with cameras and sound devices
and that I was constantly being followed by investigators. This
episode lasted about a month and was very distressing and frightening.
My psychiatric care team offered no support for me and I feel thoroughly
let down by them.
episode began to wear off after two months or so but my delusional
belief continued as I stayed in my flat frightened that I was always
tension drove me to jump out of my flat balcony of a height of thirty
feet. However, I survived and was taken to hospital with a broken
leg and arm.
years on I have moved out of that flat and into the countryside
where I am a lot happier. Yet I still hold the same delusional beliefs
as a paranoid fantasy that I toy with in my mind and I\'m concerned
that I will never 'let go' of my persecutory belief.
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