Feeling More Paranoid a Year Into the Pandemic? Experts Say You're Not Alone

Image of a person feeling anxious, paranoid and hopeless.
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Learning to identify your paranoia is the first step to mitigating it, experts say.

If you are feeling more paranoid than usual since the pandemic hit, you are not alone. The anxiety, uncertainty, and stress brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic is "real" and can lead to more paranoia, doctors say.

The John Hopkins Psychiatry Guide defines paranoia as "a response to perceived threats that are heavily influenced by anxiety and fear, existing along a continuum of normal, reality-based experience to delusional beliefs."

Dr. Brandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist based in New York, told CNN that many Americans have been “encouraged and conditioned to avoid reality," and that can heighten paranoia. The social isolation many feel, in part to the lockdown and challenges that include dealing with the possibility of food scarcity, homelessness and unemployment, have also put many on the brink of hopelessness.

"In many ways worse than the Great Depression, with tremendous inequities, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and despair — are already leading to rampant drug addiction, depression, suicides, and homicides," said Lee, who is currently president of the World Mental Health Coalition. 

Symptoms of paranoia, she said, can exist from the very subtle to completely overwhelming whether someone is already suffering from mental illness or not. 

Doctors also note that the misinformation out there is not helping ease those who are already feeling paranoid. The U.S. government and office of the president often looked at as trusted institutions held at the highest regard, have also been sources of distrust, CNN reported.

Learning to identify your paranoia is the first step to mitigating it, experts say. In fact, paranoia in small doses can be "healthy,” Cleveland-based clinical psychologist Adam Borland told CNN. He refers to it as “healthy paranoia” or “healthy anxiety,” whose primary goal is to act as a defense mechanism and protect from potential threats, and basically keep one vigilant. 

Late-night host Stephen Colbert did his opening monologue about this very topic this week, citing CNN's story that "it's perfectly normal to be feeling a little paranoid after 11 months of pandemic lockdown. So to whomever at NASA decided to embed secret messages inside the Mars rover's parachute, you're not helping!" 

However, if a person is experiencing serious bouts of paranoia doctors suggest seeking medical help, ABC13-KTNV reported.