A Delusion is a common symptom of many mental health conditions, especially those that involve psychotic elements.

Delusions are difficult for both the person with the delusion, as well as those around them. Because for the person with the delusion, there is no dissuading them from their feelings.

In this article, we take a look at delusions, examples, which conditions they are the hallmark of, and other relevant information.

Paranoia is a common symptom of delusions

What is a delusion?

A delusion involves a person having a false belief – although they believe strongly in it.

Having long-lasting delusions is common. Past research has showed that over a 20-year period, in a field of 200 patients, 57% of them had recurring or persistent delusions [1]. However, in some cases, delusions can last a few days instead.

Delusions are very distressing for both the person with the delusions, along with those around them. It can be very difficult for those around the person to try and help the person, as they typically won’t believe anything is wrong with them.

The cause of delusions are unclear. It is likely that a combination of factors are involved in the onset of a delusion. Genetics, past trauma, environmental factors and personality traits may all contribute to the onset of a delusion forming.

What is an example of a delusion?

A very common delusion is paranoia. This is a common symptom across many psychosis-based conditions.

Someone that is paranoid may believe that someone intends to do them harm. They may think they are being spied on, or having their calls, texts, or conversations monitored.

There won’t be any evidence for this. Due to their delusion, they may go to great lengths to stay away from the person they believe is out to get them.

This often has an impact on the person that is supposedly intending on doing harm – as they will often be unaware of this. It is challenging too for those around the person with the delusion.

Other examples include a person believing their partner is being unfaithful, believing that they have a secret identity, or that they have a serious medical condition.

There are six widely accepted types of delusions, which are erotomanic, somatic, jealous, grandiose, persecutory, and mixed. You can read more about these here [cons].

What conditions do delusions take place in?

Delusions can be seen in many mental health conditions. These include:

  • Delusional Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Brief Psychotic Disorder
  • Shared Psychotic Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophreniform Disorder
  • Psychotic Depression
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder

What should a person do when they have delusions?

When a person has a delusion, it is important to seek treatment. It is usually up to those around the person to get them to seek help – but this can be very challenging.

Research has shown that when psychosis is treated at an early stage, treatment outcomes are better [2]. Therefore, it is important to seek treatment as soon as symptoms begin.

A GP or mental health professional will be able to assist with delusions. Treatments are available, with the aim of stopping the delusion. This can take time though.

Treatment often consists of a type of talking therapy, and medication. There are many different types of therapy available. Antipsychotics are normally the medicine of choice.

An important reminder though…

A crucial caveat to mention when discussing delusions is to remember – delusions do always have the potential to be right – even if they may seem incorrect.

The story of Martha Mitchell is a reminder of this. A few decades ago, Mitchell had alleged that officials in President Richard Nixon’s administration were engaging in illegal activities.

Mitchell was dismissed as being mentally ill. However, when the infamous Watergate Scandal happened, suddenly people realised that some of the things Mitchell had been saying were accurate.

This is a reminder that we can’t always discount every delusion. This event led to the creation of the “Martha Mitchell effect”.


Delusions are very difficult for all concerned. But as outlined above, treatment is available, with the aim of complete recovery.

Seeking help is important, and can result in an improvement in quality of life.

See Also


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[1] Harrow, M., & Jobe, T. H. (2010). How Frequent is Chronic Multiyear Delusional Activity and Recovery in Schizophrenia: A 20-Year Multi–follow-up. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 36 (1): p192-204. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093%2Fschbul%2Fsbn074.

[2] McGorry, P. D., Killackey, E., & Yung, A. (2008). Early intervention in psychosis: concepts, evidence and future directions. World Psychiatry. 7 (3): p148-156. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002%2Fj.2051-5545.2008.tb00182.x.