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OBJECTIVES: Paranoia is most likely to emerge in adolescence. In adolescents with mental health disorders, the disruptive effect of paranoia on social relationships could worsen outcomes. However, little is known about clinical presentations of paranoia at this age. We therefore explored the development, experience, and impact of paranoia in adolescent patients. DESIGN: A qualitative interview design with interpretative phenomenological analysis was used. METHOD: Twelve adolescents (11-17 years) with paranoia attending child and adolescent mental health services were interviewed. RESULTS: Adolescents described a journey starting with their awareness of paranoia beginning to a paranoid experience of mistrust and fear of others, and, subsequently, their adjustment to paranoia in daily life. Paranoia onset was rooted in the discovery of interpersonal threat and personal vulnerability, shaped by challenging peer interactions, becoming aware of danger in the world, and personal adverse experiences. The paranoia experience included a struggle to trust friends, anticipating threat with intense fear, and using defensive strategies to keep safe. Adolescents described how the paranoia experience was confusing, negatively impacted self-concept, held them back from teenage life, and caused disconnection from friends. Longer-term responses to paranoia reflected a tension between reluctantly resigning to the experience and trying to resist the impact. CONCLUSIONS: The journey of paranoia in adolescence involves navigating multiple tensions, with young people balancing independence with vulnerability, trust with mistrust, and the desire to socialise with a fear of danger and deception. Decisions about how to respond to paranoia are likely to determine the next stage of their journey.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Psychother

Publication Date



early intervention, interpretative phenomenological analysis, psychosis, psychotic experiences, youth mental health