Beyond Madness: When Grief Morphs Into Paranoia


A thesaurus lists some words synonymous with madness, and one of these is paranoia. But while these two words are interchangeable in writing and speaking, there’s a huge gap that separates being sad to being depressed.

And this separation isn’t just about the degree of how we feel them, either.

Most of us equate madness and paranoia with the depth of how we feel them. We say the former when our melancholic feelings are between one and five on a numeric scale. If we think our emotions go beyond that then, we say we’re paranoid.

Molly S. Castelloe, PhD, wrote, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM) has historically defined this disorder, like other mental illnesses, in “categorical” terms rather than “dimensional” ones, observes psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams. In other words, you either have it, or you don’t. But McWilliams claims paranoia is a process rather than a trait, one we are all susceptible to under the influence of stress or regression.”

However, we have to remember that while madness is the universal emotion we contrast happiness and joy with, paranoia is a mental-emotional abnormality, a state of melancholy which occurs with or without any valid reason.

So how will we know if we or someone we know is just plain crazy? How can we tell if our grief has already morphed into paranoia?


Assess yourself or someone you care about via the questions below and compare your answers to how madness and paranoia are differentiated.


  1. Do you still find enjoyment doing the things you like or being surrounded by the people you love?

The things and the people we like can still comfort us and make us smile even when we’re sad. We even instinctively seek these “happy/comforting things” out when we’re feeling bummed. These things range from watching our favorite movies or series, eating our comfort foods or going out and letting our friends distract us from our melancholy.

On the other hand, the depressive side of the issue brings about anhedonia, the loss of interest and the inability to feel pleasure from the things and activities that we used to enjoy doing. Faith Brynie, PhD, wrote, that a theory “suggests that anhedonia comes not from a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, but instead from an inability to sustain good feelings over time.” Simply put, if you find whatever you’re doing pointless – even if it’s something you like doing in the past – and you’re gripped with constant sadness, then you’re most likely depressed.


  1. Are you sad because of a particular circumstance or thing?

Yes, there are times when we get lunatic for no specific reason at all. Nevertheless, the feeling often comes along with particular causes – the death of a loved one, heartbreak, a project that went wrong or even as simple as a sad ending of a movie.

Similarly, certain things can bring about paranoia. However, these events act as triggers that make the sufferers react beyond what is considered the typical boundaries of madness and grief like entertaining thoughts of death through suicide, self-harm (example, starving and hurting one’self physically), and the loss of the will to live.

Additionally, paranoia can also occur without any reason at all.


  1. Are you still going through your usual daily routines especially with eating and sleeping?

You may experience loss of appetite and sleeplessness when you’re sad. Still, you feel the need to do these things and follow through your daily routines albeit roughly.

Paranoia, however, causes very significant adverse changes in your sleeping and eating routines. People suffering from the condition either become insomniacs or stay in their beds sleeping for long periods of time. Changes in eating behaviors often stem up from the “everything is pointless/cool” mentality one has when having a depressive or manic episode, respectively.


  1. Do you feel variations in your mood?

You’ll have bright spots even when you’re sad – times you don’t feel the pain your melancholy brings (especially true when you distract yourself) or instances where you can still smile and even laugh in genuine happiness despite feeling grief.

When you’re moderately paranoid, however, low mood persists throughout the day with alleviations rarely occurring in between. In severe cases, the gloomy feeling may or may not be present, but it will continue looming over the sufferer like a constant dark cloud that just won’t go away.


  1. Are you having thoughts of worthlessness, self-harm and even suicide?

Guilt over mistakes made, thoughts of what-ifs and feelings of worthlessness may come with sadness. But self-harm and suicidal thoughts are not associated with the non-depressive blues.

For depression, especially in severe instances, hurting one’s self physically happens. Worse, the sufferer thinks and plans of ending his own life.

Remember, no matter what self-assessment for paranoia you do for yourself or for someone you care about, getting help for it is very vital. “Professional help or meds can make a big difference and bring relief, not shame,” Carrie Barron, MD, wrote. You or a loved one doesn’t need to meet any professional standards for the condition to talk to a therapist. And if you’re afraid to speak to one face-to-face, you can always opt for online counseling.

Help for paranoia is accessible, so don’t wait for the rope to reach its end before you grab it.