By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Increasing paranoia – the mental health challenge of this millennium?
The growing problem of paranoia is gone unrecognized for very long time. Currently, anxiety disorders are the number one diagnosed mental illness. The category of anxiety disorders has grown so large that recently professionals separated this family of disorders into two groups, the disorders of excessive anxiety, called anxiety disorders, and the disorders caused by real-life events, now referred to as trauma and stressor-related disorders. What has often overlooked is the prevalence of Paranoia.
The problem of paranoia frequently gets ignored.
Many people describe themselves as paranoid, or “a little bit paranoid.” Professionals often dismiss these labels as exaggerations. Over the last 25 years, as there has been more study of paranoia, professionals are starting to recognize how common paranoid symptoms are in the general population. Recent studies conclude that among the general population, people who have never been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, the rates of paranoia may run between 15 and 20 percent.
There’s no specific diagnosis for paranoia.
When we say paranoia, most people immediately think “paranoid schizophrenic.” We have come to understand that not everyone who has schizophrenia is paranoid. Paranoia can also be part of several other serious mental illnesses. Paranoia is also a part of paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder, and may even be a feature of severe major depressive disorder. Many drugs of abuse can cause paranoia. Paranoia in its less extreme forms may go under the label “excessive suspicion” or “trust issues.” In it’s more dangerous form; paranoia can be a feature of delusional jealousy.
Humans are often poor judges of danger.
In the 1950’s almost every small child look forward to getting their first bicycle. Kids commonly walk to and from schools which were often a considerable distance away. Today many people do not let their children play outside. One explanation for this is they are afraid something bad will happen to their child.
The statistics tell us that the most dangerous place for most children is at home. Every year in America more children are shot and killed at home by a biological parent who then turns the gun on themselves than all the children killed in school shootings. Absolutely school shootings are a problem that needs to be tackled, but we are fooling ourselves by thinking that it strangers who are the major danger.
America and many other industrial countries are facing an epidemic of childhood obesity. The risk of poor health and shortened lifespan from lack of exercise far outweigh the risk to most children from going outside to play.
Many people worry every time they take to the road that they will encounter someone with road rage will run them off the road or shoot them. These are certainly risks, but the far greater risk comes from people being injured or killed in automobile accidents while not wearing your seatbelt.
Why have we all become more fearful?
High levels of danger are often associated with the big city and crowded urban environments. A hundred years ago less than 5 percent of the world’s population lived in large cities; most people lived in small towns and rural settings. Since the year 2000 more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in large cities. Today television and the online news are available 24/7 to tell you about every awful event.
Belief in conspiracy theories has become more common than not.
Humans use to accept widespread death from illness as normal increasingly people believe these epidemics must be the result of some government or international conspiracy. Throughout history, there have been plagues which devastated humanity. During the Middle Ages, there were places where as much as 70 percent of the population died. These same epidemics would recur periodically. In the 1800’s epidemics of yellow fever and cholera resulted in death rates of 30 to 50 percent of the population of some towns. In the U.S. Civil War, for every man killed in battle mortality in camp due to illness could run from 5 to 10 men. During World War I, deaths from Spanish influenza ran into the millions. These recurring illnesses used to be blamed on devils and demons, religious minorities and more recently bacteria and viruses. Today, when a new illness is discovered many people’s first thought, is that someone has deliberately created this illness or that there is a cure for it, but someone is withholding that cure.
People who believe in conspiracy theories often believe in mutually contradictory ones. The same person who believes that Jimmy Hoffa was killed by the CIA might also believe that he faked his own death and is currently living in Bolivia. The average person’s willingness to believe a conspiracy theory seems to be growing exponentially.
Some increased trust issues, even paranoia, may be reality based.
Modern society has created dangers that didn’t exist past. With larger numbers of people working for the same employer competition on the job becomes fiercer. Many of the people you work with you may never see outside of work. This has led to more competition on the job and less cooperation. When we were an agricultural society, farmers tended to help each other. Today it’s likely that the person in the next cubicle may be undermining you in the competition for promotion or to avoid the downsizing layoff.
Your increased dependence on technology put you at risk.
Technology is becoming more complicated and more pervasive, growing at an exponential rate. Your personal information is no longer safe because you keep it locked up. Every company you do business with, every detail of your financial and healthcare life may be at risk. Online companies know more about the person you sleep with.
How are trust issues, suspiciousness, anxiety, and paranoia connected?
In upcoming posts, I want to talk to you more about why “trust issues, suspiciousness, anxiety and even paranoia have become so prevalent, how they may be connected and how you can cope with your fears and not let the forces of anxiety and paranoia take over your life. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with the problems without talking about the solutions.
The future is not all bleak.
At the same time psychologists and counselors have been looking at some under recognize problems, things like paranoia, burnout, and the role of the Internet in changing human relationships some positive things have also been recognized. Positive psychology has revealed an entire technology centered around having a happy life. We now know happiness is not the result of constant doses of temporary pleasure but comes from long-term ways of thinking and behaving. We are also recognizing that people have certain inherent strengths. Whether you know it or not, you and your children have some talents and abilities just waiting to be discovered and perfected.
For more on these topics see:
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.