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Many people feel paranoid at times. 'Is she looking at me strangely? Is he talking about me behind my back?' Sometimes these feelings can be justified.

Paranoia is a state of mind in which a person believes that others are trying to harm them. It could be a feeling of being watched, listened to, followed or monitored in some way. It might be a belief that there is some kind of conspiracy operating against them. Paranoid people sometimes have an increased sense of self-importance, believing that many others are taking notice of them when it is not true.

Mild paranoid thoughts are quite common in the general population and tend to recover naturally. Long-term paranoia can be a symptom of a mental disorder or be caused by recreational drug abuse, dementia or other medical conditions that affect the brain. Paranoia doesn't necessarily come from a mental disorder.

Paranoia is sometimes referred to as a persecutory delusion. A delusion is a fixed, false belief that someone continues to hold even when there is no evidence that the belief is true. Paranoid symptoms can range from a general feeling of distrust and suspicion of others through to bizarre and complicated beliefs such as conspiracy theories about the government, police or aliens.

Where to get help

If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 187 263.
  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) – online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467.

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Last reviewed: December 2018

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