My Father Has Suddenly Become Paranoid

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Reader’s Question

I believe my father is delusional or has some kind of disorder. He’s 48 years old and this past month he has been doing stuff that doesn’t make sense. He thinks that there are cameras in the house to spy on him (he has searched the house for them), and he ripped his jacket open because he believed there were wires in it used to track him. He ripped paintings on the wall because he thought there were cameras inside them. He has been talking to himself or someone he thinks is there. He accused my mom of cheating with her coworkers. He won’t even take a shower at home because he thinks someone is watching him. He’s not eating as much and hasn’t been sleeping like he used to. I don’t know what happened to my dad but this all is coming from nowhere.

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, your father certainly seems to be exhibiting paranoid delusions. The mystery involves the cause. Such paranoid delusions are the hallmark of the paranoid subtype of schizophrenia. However, the onset of such signs of schizophrenia is typically in early adulthood. It’s not impossible that the first psychotic episode would occur 30 years later than that, but if there have not been any signs or symptoms of odd thinking or perceiving the world before now, a diagnosis of schizophrenia become less likely.

With increasing age, the sudden appearance of delusions or other signs of psychosis is increasingly linked to either medications or neurologic illness. Several medications, including some over-the-counter ones, can cause psychoticism in particular individuals. Also, suddenly stopping particular drugs may have similar effects. Then there are numerous diseases and conditions that may cause psychotic thinking or perceptions in a person who previously had no such experiences. There are many such conditions, including a brain tumor or the onset of Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. In other words, it’s important that your father be evaluated medically as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult getting your father to be evaluated medically if he incorporates such services into his paranoid delusions. By definition, delusions are both fixed and unreasonable, so trying to talk him out of them is unlikely to be productive. Instead, the goal should be to get him evaluated by whatever means necessary, even if that means going along with the delusions at this point. For example, if he has any concerns that some technology may have been implanted inside him, perhaps the medical evaluation could be framed as for the purpose of determining the details of the implant.

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It may also help to stay focused on expressing your concern over his health and “stress levels” rather than accusing him of being “crazy.” That way, even if he denies that there is anything wrong with him, you can remain focused on persuading him to be evaluated to put your own mind at rest. Similarly, such a rationale for the medical appointment ensures that you’ll be present to describe to the physician what you’ve noticed. The physician should regard the symptoms you described very seriously.

If all attempts to have your father evaluated voluntarily meet with failure, you may have to consider legal commitment to treatment. In such cases the local court determines, based on testimony, that there is sufficient cause to force the individual to be evaluated (that the individual’s refusal places the person’s physical and/or mental health in jeopardy) and the police would ensure delivery to the hospital for an evaluation. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that, but such an option exists for cases like your father’s. My last suggestion is to recruit the help of family and friends who share your observations and concerns. The process may be difficult and stressful, but your father’s health may very well rest in your hands.

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