Ground-breaking research from clinical psychologists at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, shows that one in three people in the UK regularly suffers paranoid or suspicious fears. In fact this level of paranoia is much higher than previously suspected and means that paranoid thoughts may well be almost as common as depression or anxiety.

Paranoid thinking is the suspicion that other people intend to do us harm.

The study found that:

-- over 40% of people regularly worry that negative comments are being made about them
-- 27% think that people deliberately try to irritate them
-- 20% worry about being observed or followed
-- 10% think that someone has it in for them
-- 5% worry that there's a conspiracy to harm them

The research conducted amongst 1200 people highlights the surprising extent of paranoia amongst the UK population, and the distress they can cause. Worries about other people are so common that they seem to be an essential - if unwelcome - part of what it means to be human.

Dr Daniel Freeman, who conducted the study with Professor Philippa Garety at the Institute of Psychiatry, said: ?We were astonished at how common paranoia and suspicion are amongst the population and that these thoughts may be almost as common as anxious or depressed thinking. Understandably there are certain instances when it is important to practice caution, such as taking money from a cash machine without alerting too much attention and walking down a poorly-lit street at night. Following last year's London bombings, it is natural that underground train travellers are more vigilant than before. However our research demonstrates that there can be a tendency to exaggerate our fears. Our study shows just how many of us are worrying - probably unnecessarily - about something that might not happen instead of getting on with the more enjoyable and productive parts of our lives.?

?What we also found in our study was that these suspicious thoughts can cause real distress. Our research has highlighted this trend - until recently we had little idea of the extent of the problem, and little sense of how to help people overcome their fears. But the good news is that there are now very effective ways of reducing unfounded suspiciousness.?

Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts

A new website is being launched: which provides information on paranoid thoughts, advice on seeking help, and opportunities for people to share their experiences. Also the results of the research are detailed in the world's first self-help book on dealing with paranoid thoughts published on the 3 July 2006, Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts, published by Constable and Robinson. The book explains how these fears arise and presents practical steps to deal with them, alongside personal accounts by those affected by paranoid thoughts and includes questionnaires and exercises to help readers learn about and combat their fears.

The frequency of paranoid and suspicious thoughts in the general population

% having thought at least weekly

-- I need to be on my guard against others - 52%
-- Strangers and friends look at me critically - 48%
-- There might be negative comments being circulated about me - 42%
-- People are laughing at me - 34%
-- Bad things are being said about me behind my back - 30%
-- People might be hostile towards me - 29%
-- People deliberately try to irritate me - 27%
-- I might be being observed or followed - 19%
-- People are trying to make me upset - 12%
-- Someone I know has bad intentions towards me - 12%
-- I am under threat from others - 10%
-- I have a suspicion that someone has it in for me - 8%
-- Someone I don't know has bad intentions towards me - 8%
-- People would harm me given the opportunity - 8%
-- There is a possibility of a conspiracy against me - 5%

Examples of paranoid thoughts

Doreen is a fifty-eight year-old shop worker from London: At work, if I am restocking the shelves and other staff members are nearby, I sometimes think they are joking and talking about me, but I know they aren't really.

Chris, a twenty-six year-old teacher: Standing at a bus stop at night when I was back in Liverpool, a group of drunken youths were walking towards me, and I was worried they may be intent on causing trouble, or they may try to hurt me.

Liz, a twenty-four year-old musician from Bristol: I once thought a housemate was trying to steal my possessions as I often caught her standing in the corridor near my room and nowhere near her own room. I got really wound up about this and ended up locking some of my valuables in the garden shed. After this, I began to have other thoughts - like she was trying to poison me because she was always asking me to eat food that she had made and giving me new foreign alcohol to try.

Alex, a forty-two year-old lorry driver and former soldier from Scotland: For a while I used to believe that M15, Mossad, and the police were trying to kidnap and torture me.

Melissa, a thirty-nine year old mother of three, felt that a neighbour was intent upon entering her house and stealing her property.

Greg, a nineteen year-old student: If I'm with a friend and someone rings them on their mobile and they tell the caller they're with me, well if the caller then says something I can't hear and the friend I'm with laughs, I always think that the person on the other end of the phone said something horrible about me.

Richard is a thirty-four year-old journalist. He became fearful that his family was trying to physically harm him.

Institute of Psychiatry
King's College London
De Crespigny Park, London
United Kingdom SE5 8AF