The context of delusional experiences in the daily life of patients with schizophrenia
Background. Global characteristics and psychosocial risk factors related to delusions have been identified. The present study extends these findings to the level of everyday functioning, identifying characteristics of delusional moments (DMs) and contextual risk and protective factors for delusional exacerbations in daily life.
Methods. Data were collected using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM), a time-sampling technique. Forty-eight chronic patients diagnosed with schizophrenia rated the intensity of pathological symptoms and mood states and described their thoughts and the environmental context during consecutive moments in daily life. Delusions were defined on the basis of self-rated suspicion, preoccupation, feeling controlled, and coded thought pathology. Daily context included current activity, persons present and location. Characteristics of DMs and non-delusional moments (nDMs) were compared, and a multilevel logistic regression model was used to identify contexts that might trigger or prevent DMs.
Results. On average, patients experienced delusions less than one-third of the time. DMs were characterized by higher negative affect and lower positive affect. The presence of family or acquaintances decreased the risk of subsequently experiencing a DM, whereas withdrawal from activities increased this risk.
Conclusions. Data support the validity of ESM for investigating delusions in schizophrenia. Daily life contexts appear to alter the probability that delusions will occur. Knowledge about such contexts may therefore be useful in helping patients develop better coping strategies and in creating therapeutic interventions that can lessen emotional distress.
c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Philippe A. E. G. Delespaul, Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, European Graduate School of Neuroscience, Maastricht University, PO Box 616 (PAR 45), 6200, MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.