Delusional Disorder: What Is It?

Hi there Psych2goers, this is a disclaimer that this article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to serve as mental health advice. Please reach out to a doctor, or other mental health professional if you feel you’re struggling.

Most of us can relate to having a “strange belief” in one area or another. Perhaps it’s wearing your lucky shirt to competitions because you think it’ll increase your chances of winning. Maybe it’s waiting until you’re outside to open an umbrella because it’s “bad luck” to open them indoors. In any case, we can recognize these as irrational, and they don’t have much impact on our lives. However, what if we held even stranger beliefs that do affect us? For example, what if you felt that someone was stealing your organs? What if you felt that the television is watching what you do? These strange and bothersome beliefs indicate a bigger problem and can greatly affect the quality of your life. Delusions are present in many different conditions. However, in this article, we’ll focus specifically on delusional disorder: what is it?

What is Delusional Disorder?

Delusional disorder makes it difficult to differentiate reality from something made up. This classifies it as a psychotic disorder: a disorder characterized by losing touch with reality (WebMD 2019). Someone with this disorder maintains false beliefs that may range from the ordinary to extraordinary. For instance, feeling that someone is following you everywhere, everyday is unlikely, however it is not impossible (this would be a regular delusion). On the other hand, the idea that someone is listening to your thoughts is impossible (thus is called a bizarre delusion). In either case, the person with the disorder firmly believes that a scenario, bizarre or not, is taking place despite having no evidence. Whether it is believing that they’re being followed or having their thoughts listened to, they strongly believe in these untrue situations but cannot prove them.

Delusional disorder comes in many forms including:

  • Erotomanic: Believing that a person is madly in love with you. Usually a famous person, but not always.
  • Grandiose: Thinking you have special powers and abilities, or even a relationship with a powerful figure.
  • Jealous: Feeling that your significant other is unfaithful to you.
  • Persecutory: Feeling that someone is “out to get you” or that you’re being treated unfairly.
  • Somatic: Feeling that there’s something physically wrong such as a disease or that you’re infested with bugs.
  • Unspecified: Can be something completely different from others listed.
  • Mixed: Can be multiple of the above.

(Source: Psychology Today 2019)

What Causes Delusional Disorder?

Since delusional disorder is rare, it is not widely understood. Genetics is a potential cause: having a relative with delusional disorder or other psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder may increase the risk of developing the condition. Other factors such as substance abuse to stress can contribute as well. It is also believed to arise from physical issues in the brain concerning perception and thinking. Because delusional disorder is little understood and rare to find, there are no known preventions (Harvard Health Publishing 2019).

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Symptoms may come and go and vary in intensity throughout time. In some cases, it can go away completely after a few months. Other times, it is recurring and persistent – so it’s best to seek help as early as possible. The criteria out of the DSM-5 are the following:

  • Having at least one delusion that persists for longer than a month.
  • The person does not meet the criteria for schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.
  • The person’s function is relatively unharmed besides the delusion(s). 
  • The symptoms are not the result of another condition (mental or physical) or from any substances.

(Source: Bennett 2019)

Other symptoms include:

  • Mood problems. 
  • Hallucinations affecting any of the five senses. 

(Source: WebMD 2006)

When Should I Seek Help?

You should speak with a mental health professional or doctor if you feel that you have any of the symptoms. Seeking help as soon as possible can help identify a treatment option and improve the quality of your life. Your doctor can also rule out other possible conditions that may mimic the symptoms of delusional disorder (Harvard Health Publishing 2019).

What Are the Treatment Options?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common treatment. In some cases, medication has been shown to work to varying degrees, depending on the case. Otherwise, education and support can help tremendously. However, in any case, it is best to talk with a doctor for the best treatment option. It is important to know that most people can continue to live a normal life with the condition (WebMD 2006). 

While superstitions are weird, but harmless, beliefs that many people have, delusional disorder is something far more serious. These delusions can greatly impact your wellbeing and quality of life. However, it is important to know that treatment and support is available. It often just takes getting in contact with the right mental health professional to get to a better place in life.

References:

  • Bennett, T. (2019, September 12). Delusional Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment DSM-5 297.1 (F22). Counseling and Life Coaching – Find a Counselor. thriveworks.com/blog/delusional-disorder/
  • Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, March). Delusional Disorder. Harvard Health. www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/delusional-disorder-a-to-z
  • Psychology Today. (2019, February 7). Delusional Disorder. www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/delusional-disorder
  • WebMD. (2006, February 2). Delusions and Delusional Disorder. www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/delusional-disorder#2-3
  • WebMD. (2019, November 8). Types of Psychotic Disorders. www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/ss/slideshow-types-of-psychotic-disorders

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