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Van Os recalled a delusional patient who was convinced that the French singer Charles Aznavour was in love with her, and had been whispering to her before she went to sleep every night for more than two decades.
"You could call it a psychotic experience, but she was very happy about it," van Os said. "There isn't always a need for care when there's an instance of psychosis."
He hoped that being able to identify milder delusional symptoms in people could help doctors intervene earlier to prevent more serious cases.
The post-Sept. 11 atmosphere and the war on terror also have increased levels of paranoia in the West, some experts said.
"We are bombarded with information about our alert status and we're told to report suspicious-looking characters," Penn said. "That primes people to be more paranoid."
Traumatic events can make people more vulnerable to having paranoid thoughts. Since the attacks, Penn said Americans have been conditioned to be more vigilant of anything out of the ordinary.
While heightened awareness may be good thing, Penn said it can also lead to false accusations and an atmosphere where strangers are negatively viewed.
That can result in more social isolation, hostility and possibly even crime. And it can take a toll on physical health. More paranoia means more stress, a known risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
Still, some experts said that a little bit of paranoia could be helpful.
"In a world full of threat, it may be kind of beneficial for people to be on guard. It's good to be looking around and see who's following you and what's happening," Combs said. "Not everybody is trying to get you, but some people may be."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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