The weeks before 100 persecutory delusions: the presence of many potential contributory causal factors.
Freeman D., Morrison A., Bird JC., Chadwick E., Bold E., Taylor KM., Diamond R., Collett N., Černis E., Isham L., Lister R., Kirkham M., Teale A-L., Twivy E., Waite F.
BACKGROUND: The period before the formation of a persecutory delusion may provide causal insights. Patient accounts are invaluable in informing this understanding. AIMS: To inform the understanding of delusion formation, we asked patients about the occurrence of potential causal factors - identified from a cognitive model - before delusion onset. METHOD: A total of 100 patients with persecutory delusions completed a checklist about their subjective experiences in the weeks before belief onset. The checklist included items concerning worry, images, low self-esteem, poor sleep, mood dysregulation, dissociation, manic-type symptoms, aberrant salience, hallucinations, substance use and stressors. Time to reach certainty in the delusion was also assessed. RESULTS: Most commonly it took patients several months to reach delusion certainty (n = 30), although other patients took a few weeks (n = 24), years (n = 21), knew instantly (n = 17) or took a few days (n = 6). The most frequent experiences occurring before delusion onset were: low self-confidence (n = 84); excessive worry (n = 80); not feeling like normal self (n = 77); difficulties concentrating (n = 77); going over problems again and again (n = 75); being very negative about the self (n = 75); images of bad things happening (n = 75); and sleep problems (n = 75). The average number of experiences occurring was high (mean 23.5, s.d. = 8.7). The experiences clustered into six main types, with patients reporting an average of 5.4 (s.d. = 1.0) different types. CONCLUSIONS: Patients report numerous different experiences in the period before full persecutory delusion onset that could be contributory causal factors, consistent with a complex multifactorial view of delusion occurrence. This study, however, relied on retrospective self-report and could not determine causality. DECLARATION OF INTEREST: None.