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Ask The Experts

Is My Friend Paranoid or Is Something Wrong?

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A person I know has convinced herself that the government has implanted some sort of tracking chip or device in her neck/skull. She’s been having paranoid delusions similar to this ever since her 2nd year at an extremely competitive ivy league school, prior to this she was convinced that her boyfriend had hacked her computer and cell phone and that people were spying on her via her laptop’s webcam/microphone so she put tape over them and constantly inquired to me about hacking and malware and how to detect it. She has extremely irrational and emotional mood swings that seemingly come from nowhere and over the most innocuous things.

Victor Schwartz, M.D., Medical Director, The Jed Foundation answers:

What you are describing seems like a very serious problem.

There are a number of different problems that can have these kinds of symptoms including several psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and even some primary medical disorders. It is not clear from your note whether this person is functioning adequately in other spheres of life or not. There are some people who are able to maintain some degree of adequate function while they have delusional thinking.

It is also not clear from your note what exactly your relationship is to this person but I would urge you to do what you can to get her professional attention. If you are a close friend, while not directly challenging her delusions, you might be able to get her to go for help by pointing out that she is (in all likelihood) distressed by these very unusual experiences.

If you are not close enough or do not feel comfortable, you should speak to someone in your school’s counseling service about what steps might be possible for them to take to make sure this person (and those around her) are able to remain safe and properly cared for. Since many of the causes of this type of problem can reflect serious illness, I would urge you to at least bring your concern to the attention of someone who can get her help.