Individuals with mental illness may experience persecutory delusions. These delusions are most commonly associated with schizophrenia, but they also may appear in manic episodes of bipolar disorder or with severe depression with psychosis.
They may also signal a delusional disorder—an illness that is characterized by at least one month of delusions but no other psychotic symptoms. It’s also common for individuals with dementia to develop delusions. It’s estimated that 27% of individuals with dementia experience persecutory delusions at one time or another.
Delusional disorders are far less common than other mental illnesses that may involve psychosis. It’s estimated that only 0.2% of the population experiences delusional disorder.
Individuals with persecutory delusions believe that harm is going to occur and that other people intend for them to be harmed. Individuals experiencing persecutory delusions may say things such as:
- “My neighbors break into my house at night and steal my clothes out of my closet.”
- “The police are following me because they want to torture me.”
- “An evil spirit is trying to kill me.”
- “The government is poisoning me through the drinking water.”
- “The people up the street are spying on me and are going to steal my stuff.”
Individuals reporting persecutory delusions may talk in vague terms by saying things like, “They’re out to get to me,” without being able to articulate who “they” are.
Sometimes, individuals with persecutory delusions report their concerns to the authorities. When nothing happens, they often grow suspicious that the authorities are somehow involved.
They also grow frustrated when no one will help them. They may be confused about why friends and family members don’t seem to share their concerns; or they may become angry that no one will take action.