Understanding Thought Disorders

“Thought disorder” is a term used to describe any of several illnesses or diseases that commonly manifest in language (speech or writing) that is difficult to make sense of. The most common thought disorder is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects more than two million Americans. Below are four common symptoms of thought disorders:

Hallucinations occur when individuals hear and see things that aren’t really there. Individuals with hallucinations do not have accurate perceptions of their environments. Visual hallucinations involve seeing things, such as imaginary friends or enemies. Auditory hallucinations commonly involve hearing negative messages that may trigger odd behaviors. Hallucinated voices “interact” with patients, often ordering them to do something or commenting on their behavior. People who experience hallucinations may talk to themselves – although they believe they are talking to another person. Sometimes people who experience hallucinations may hear voices instructing them to harm themselves or others.

Individuals with delusions experience bizarre thoughts and have fixed false beliefs. These beliefs are firmly held against all evidence to the contrary. Delusions can be very grandiose and can involve the person being at the center of some large plot or scheme. Believing one is being followed or being poisoned are both examples of delusions. Individuals with delusions can also experience hallucinations. Delusions combined with paranoia will likely cause additional anxiety and fear.

When someone is obsessed with fearful and suspicious thoughts, they are considered paranoid. Paranoid persons often have ideas of persecution or injustice. They may feel as if anyone and everyone is out to get them, becoming engulfed in their delusions. Fears about other people seem to have reached new heights, as some studies show paranoia to be as common as anxiety or depression. Paranoid ideas can be intense and complex and ignite angry and hostile behaviors. Telling someone they are “crazy” when they have paranoid or delusional thoughts will only agitate them more.

On the railways, derailment occurs when a train jumps off the track. “Derailment” is also a thought disorder characterized by slippage of ideas further and further from the point of a discussion. Derailing thoughts can just wander off and never return. The individual uses words and phrases that have loose association. The frame of reference changes from one viewpoint to another. This can cause confusion for the person experiencing derailment as well as those around him or her.

Many people with thought disorders lack insight and refuse diagnosis or treatment. However, treatment options are available and can help these individuals to live full, productive lives.