Delusional disorder is characterized by recurrent thoughts of a non-bizarre nature that occur in the absence of other psychopathological symptoms. Non-bizarre beliefs are defined as thoughts that could be possible, but are definitely not true. Examples of delusional thoughts might include believing one has the potential to be a successful opera singer, but doesn't have the ability or training to sing in the proper key. What distinguishes delusional disorder from normal and everyday perception or belief in oneself is the tenacity and single-mindedness with which one clings to the delusional idea. There are six types of delusional disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
- Erotomanic type – belief that another person is fixated, infatuated or in love with the delusional thinker
- Grandiose type – delusions of exaggerated power, wealth or identity
- Jealous type – certainty that his or her sexual partner is unfaithful
- Persecutory type – delusions of mistreatment and harmful intent by others
- Somatic type – beliefs that a physical defect or significant medical condition exist
- Mixed type – a mixture of any two or more of the above
Symptoms of Delusional Disorder
Delusional disorder produces symptoms that are present in many psychological disorders. Individuals experiencing only this disorder may still be able to function properly in society, remaining stable and free of other symptoms and conditions. Normally, no other bizarre behavior or eccentricities are present, and those who suffer remain logical in other areas of their lives. Following is a list of brief symptoms and characteristics to look for when delusional disorder is suspected:
- An unusually persistent idea or belief that is clearly untrue
- Unquestioning acceptance of the nature of strange things believed to be happening
- Attempts by another to qualify or clarify are often met with strong emotions, such as hostility
- Secrecy or suspicion in regards to the delusion
- Normal behavior and daily routine may be significantly altered to provide for the delusion
- Lack of humor and hypersensitivity regarding the belief
- Actions regarding the belief are uncharacteristic of the person's general personality
Causes of Delusional Disorder
While the exact cause of delusional disorder is unknown, research suggests that a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors may contribute to symptoms. Symptoms may be either passed down to or learned from family members who have delusional or similar disorders, such as schizophrenia. Brain abnormalities, chemical imbalance or significant life stress may also lead to thoughts of a delusional nature.
Diagnosis of Delusional Disorder
Diagnosing delusional disorder usually requires a trained professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. In order to reach this particular diagnosis, symptoms of related psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, must not be present. Additionally, illegal or prescription drug use that causes delusions does not qualify for diagnosis of this disorder. A professional evaluation will generally include an overview of family medical and emotional history, current stress factors and observance of general behavior and reaction to questions regarding the delusional thought.
Treating Delusional Disorder
Though medication of some sort is generally recommended for most mental illnesses, delusional disorder tends to be resistant to the use of prescription pills. Therapy is usually the treatment of choice for alleviating symptoms, suggesting new coping skills and evaluating family behavior to uncover a possible root cause. Recognition and awareness of distortions in thought can help significantly, and therapeutic measures can provide advice for preventing delusions, recognizing triggering events and creating a plan to overcome the illness. Group therapy may also provide solutions through exposure to others who are experiencing the same type of difficulties in mental thought process.