Sister is Delusional

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My sister, age 57, is a BSRN, but not working. She has difficulty with working relationships. She has been married five times. Fired from her last job. For over a year she has been convinced “the government” is really the enemy. She thinks they are getting ready to confiscate everyone’s property and then make us “rent” our property from them. She is convinced they (the govnmt)is placing reflectors on people’s mailboxes so “they” will know who to “round up” for concentration camps. The latest “coup” she says will occur between Dec 21st and Jan 6th. Our family has been through several of these doomsday dates with of course nothing happening. We cannot convince her she is not thinking right. Physically, she is in poor health and close to 200 lbs overweight. She refuses to file for any kind of disability for fear of “the government”. (They are planning on taking everyone’s pensions). What can I do to help my sister see that all this is nuts. Do you have a name for this disorder?

A: Your sister is suffering from persecutory (paranoid) delusions. A delusion is a fixed irrational thought or belief. People with delusions can’t be persuaded by facts. The believe what they believe. The content of delusions can be bizarre or non-bizarre. Bizarre delusions are just that – bizarre. For example, a person might believe that he is really from another planet. Non-bizarre delusions can sound a bit reasonable but are highly unlikely. Your sister’s idea that the government is out to get us is a good example.

Delusional thinking is often associated with schizophrenia but it can also be a manifestation of an extreme anxiety disorder or the manic phase of bipolar disorder. People with persecutory delusions are often angry, irritable, and resentful. They are very frightened people. Some people with delusions can function pretty well as long as people don’t argue with their irrational thinking. I’m struck by the fact that your sister has been married 5 times. That means that she was able to find a partner 5 times! She must have periods where she settles down some.

Your sister needs to see a psychiatrist. An anti-psychotic medication might quiet the delusions so she can live a more normal life. You won’t be able to convince her to see a doctor since she doesn’t believe that there is anything wrong with her. If she becomes violent or irrational, though, you could take her to an emergency room for evaluation.

I hope you can get her to a psychiatrist. This is hard on her and on everyone who cares about her.

I wish her well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Feb 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Sister is Delusional. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/02/25/sister-is-delusional/