It is no secret that mental health problems affect billion of people. From stress, to schizophrenia, mental health issues are now being treated as equal to physical ones, as they are no longer a taboo. Such an issue is paranoia, where people feel like they are being threatened in some way, even if there is no evidence, or very little evidence, that they are. This also affects seafarers, and can be exacerbated due to the loneliness that seafaring comes with.
What is paranoia
aranoid thoughts can be described as delusions. There are lots of different kinds of threats a person suffering from paranoia might be scared and worried about. Paranoid thoughts could also be exaggerated suspicions. For example, someone made a nasty comment about you once, and you believe that they are directing a hate campaign against you.
Every person suffering from paranoia has a different experience, however, some common examples of paranoid thoughts are the following:
- You are being talked about behind your back or watched by people or organisations (either on or offline);
- Other people are trying to make you look bad or exclude you;
- You are at risk of being physically harmed or killed;
- People are using hints and double meanings to secretly threaten you or make you feel bad;
- Other people are deliberately trying to upset or irritate you;
- People are trying to take your money or possessions;
- Your actions or thoughts are being interfered with by others;
- You are being controlled or that the government is targeting you;
- You might have these thoughts very strongly all the time, or just occasionally when you are in a stressful situation. They might cause you a lot of distress or you might not really mind them too much.
Ultimately, paranoid thoughts usually have to do with an idea a person has about other people and what they might do or think. It can be difficult to work out whether a suspicious thought is paranoid or not, especially if someone else says these thoughts are paranoid when the person having them don’t think they are.
Paranoia at sea
Paranoia is not only a shore problem, as it can be reported on seafarers as well. In fact, the level of paranoid ideation due to stress and anxiety in 2019 was within the range of general public. However, in 2020 this percentage has doubled. As paranoid ideation is closely linked with anxiety disorders, whose numbers have been increasing as well, the rise in paranoia case was expected. The increase of this number shows that more needs to be done and be put into action for the wellbeing and safety of seafarers.
This could include helplines, but more importantly, new and innovative methods and procedures. Today, mobile apps can be a great solution to help people with mental problems, offering an easy to use interface, many times without the need of data. Another very important aspect is that any supportive action must ensure the anonymity of the person, which could be a factor for them not to seek help in the first place.
Moreover, as said above, a person presenting paranoid thoughts, does not feel safe. Fake news can make matters worse. Especially during a pandemic. For this reason, providing valid and continuous information to the seafarers can help reduce the need for the crew to search for information on websites that could be misleading, thus reducing their frustration and anxiety.
How to help a person with paranoid thoughts
As explained, someone may be able to tell if another person is paranoid, as they could be accusing others of trying to harm them or may look around fearfully. If you are dealing with a paranoid person, there are ways to help them:
- Don’t argue: Ask questions about the person’s fears, and talk to them about the paranoia if the person wants to listen to you.
- Use simple directions: Tell the person that no harm will come to them and that you can help. For example, by saying “Sit down, and let’s talk about it, ” the person might feel more comfortable talking about it.
Give the person enough personal space: That way they will not feel trapped or surrounded. Stay with them at a distance that is comfortable for them and you, but try to remain more than an arm’s reach away.
- Call for help if you think anyone is in danger.
- Move the person away from the cause of the fear: This could be a noise or an activity. If you identify the cause of the fear, then ask the person to tell you what is causing the fear, and make a direct statement that you are not afraid.
- Focus the person on what is real.
- Tell the person everything you are going to do before you do it: For example, “I’m going to take out my cell phone.”
Of course, a person who knows that they are paranoid can help themselves as well, through 5 key practices:
Keep a diary: This may help you the person identify what might be triggering the paranoia and when they are most likely to have paranoid thoughts;
Question paranoid thoughts: A person challenging themself about their suspicious thoughts can help them work out whether these thoughts are paranoid or justified. Some questions you could ask yourself could be: What would my best friend say? Have I talked to other people about my worries? and, is there any evidence for my suspicions that can’t be questioned?
Look for support: Feeling connected to other people is an important part of staying well. It can help every person feel valued, confident and more able to face difficult times.
Learn how to relax: There is some evidence that mindfulness can help reduce mild paranoia, while relaxation can help the person look after their wellbeing when they are feeling stressed, anxious or busy.
Look after yourself: Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences, while eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. Exercise can also be really helpful for the mental wellbeing, along with spending time in nature, and trying out creative hobbies, such as playing a musical instrument.