How Do I Cope With My Loved One’s Delusions?

Seeing a loved one experience delusions can be distressing, but taking active steps to support that person and to cope with the situation will help you both. Encourage a diagnosis and treatment; learn through your own therapy how to best support your loved one; avoid challenging delusions and acknowledge that they feel real to the person experiencing them; and above all, take care of yourself and your own mental and physical health.

Delusions are false beliefs that a person holds on to in the face of evidence to the contrary. They can be caused by a number of mental health conditions, like schizophrenia or delusional disorder, but delusions can also occur in the absence of a mental illness. If someone you care about is struggling with these persistent, false beliefs, it is important to help them get a diagnosis and necessary treatment.

Treatment can help your loved one let go of these delusions, but it will take time, commitment, and support from you. Coping in the meantime can be challenging, but with good self-care and support from other caring family members or friends, you can manage and get through this difficult period.

Learning About Delusions and Mental Health

A delusion is a false belief, but one that is not related to culture, religion, intelligence, or other similar factors. It is a disturbance or abnormality in thinking and is considered to be one characteristic symptom of psychosis, a state in which a person has lost some degree of touch with reality. There are some non-mental illness causes of delusions, like brain injuries, but most people who suffer from them are living with some type of mental health condition, which may include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Delusional disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Brief psychotic disorder
  • Schizophreniform disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder

The content of delusions varies, but is often related to the condition. For instance, someone with depression that causes delusions may believe they did something terrible. Other delusions may be paranoid, grandiose, somatic, bizarre or non-bizarre, or related to mood.

Knowing more about what delusions are and what causes them can help you learn to better cope with your loved one’s false beliefs. To know exactly what you’re dealing with, you need to push for a professional diagnosis.

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Treatment for Delusions

Once your loved one has a diagnosis, the most important thing you can do to help both of you cope is to insist on regular treatment. Treatment may vary depending on the underlying condition, but in general psychotic symptoms like delusions can be managed with antipsychotic medications and behavioral therapies. Over time, this combination most often reduces and may even eliminate delusions.

Avoid Challenging Delusions

Simply telling your loved one that they are wrong is not helpful. Delusions feel very real to the person experiencing them, and by simply dismissing them or challenging them you can make him or her retreat and withdraw. Instead, be sensitive while also making sure your loved one realizes that you don’t believe the delusion is real.

You can listen and ask questions, while validating any real part of the delusion. Acknowledge how the delusions make your loved one feel—scared, angry, anxious—and encourage them to talk about these emotions rather than the content of the delusions.

Therapy for Loved Ones and Self Care

Living with or caring about someone who suffers delusions can be distressing, frustrating, and even frightening. Hearing your loved one insist that something false is real can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Getting help for him or her is just part of the solution. To cope with your loved one’s mental illness you too can benefit from therapy, which can teach you healthy and productive coping strategies as well as positive ways to support the patient’s care.

At home, you can also take important steps to care for yourself. Caregivers of those who struggle with mental illness can get burned out and stressed, and self-care is important for both you and the person you are trying to help. Make sure you keep up a good social network with people you can turn to when you need to talk or you need more active assistance. Stay healthy, eating right and getting exercise and adequate sleep. Practice mindfulness strategies, like meditation and yoga to reduce stress.

Treatment, therapy, caring support, and self-care are all important factors in coping with having a loved one who struggles with delusions. Don’t give up hope that the person you care about will get better; treatment is often effective at reducing or eliminating delusions. Be patient and supportive.