ON MENTAL ILLNESS: On Delusional Systems and Environment

Jack Bragen
Friday October 26, 2018 - 11:50:00 AM

I have learned that merely being medicated isn't enough to allow a mentally ill person recover and to maintain a good level of functioning. Environment is equally important. 

Adequate housing should be considered a non-negotiable need for every person with a psychiatric diagnosis. No one can get well from an illness if they do not have housing. Aside from housing, there are other environmental factors that potentially could cause stress. And some factors, on the other hand, could be beneficial. 

In many instances, an unfulfilled need can push someone with psychotic tendencies in the direction of getting ill. In some instances, it is a genuine need that most of us would expect to be nearly universal. In other instances, it could be a false need that an individual unconsciously "programmed" herself or himself to have. Either way, a strong surge of unhappy emotions tends to be a trigger for many of us with psychotic vulnerabilities. 

Delusions of grandeur are in a different category. They may arise when someone with psychotic vulnerabilities feels inadequate. For this issue, I would suggest exercises to promote self-esteem and self-appreciation. Also, having a meaningful job, probably not one of emptying trash in a retail establishment, could help self-esteem. For example, a person could go to school and learn how to repair computers--something I have done. When we gain knowledge in a respected field, it can do wonders for self-esteem, and this can have an efficacious effect on the problem of delusions of grandeur. 

However, it is important to note that the level of emotional pain a person feels is relevant. In the early stages of "decompensating," becoming delusional seems as though it provides a form of gratification, in the absence of a straightforward ability to be happy. Or, a delusional "system" (a set of delusions that reinforces itself) could arise when facts are emotionally too hard to face. 

When I was nineteen, I worked in supermarkets, polishing the floors overnight. The environment of being alone in a supermarket, for close to ten hours every night, was a hotbed for delusions for many reasons. This included loneliness, and the tendency to take refuge in pleasurable thinking. 

The mechanisms of pleasure and pain, and those of fear, are factors that promote the onset of delusional thought. Upon becoming deeply rooted in "happy" delusions, at some point the illness will progress and the delusions will turn from a pleasurable escape from reality into a negative, painful fearful set of delusions. This is where the psychotic illness goes into another stage. 

If we are in an environment in which basic emotional needs are met, it is less likely that we will become ill. However, merely because a mentally ill person is living in favorable circumstances, this doesn't mean we should go off medication. 


Most people have choices concerning our external environment. We can change the external environment in numerous ways. Making a friend changes our environment. Turning a television on or off changes the environment. People have numerous choices while most other animals must simply live under existing conditions. 

We have choices concerning our thoughts. We can recite affirmations, and that changes the thoughts--thus changing the internal environment. When we improve the internal environment, it gives us more sway over the external environment; this is because we've raised the level of efficiency. It is a lot easier to become "efficient" or "effective" at accomplishing something when we don't have a massive amount of internally generated anguish, fear or pain. 


Delusions may also arise when we encounter something that we can't grapple with on an emotional level. There may be some event in life that disrupts the mind to the extent that the vulnerability toward delusions is activated. If we can recognize those times when we are at risk for getting ill, we can do things to prevent a relapse before it happens. 

Becoming delusional, then, is often a misguided coping mechanism. If it is too painful to track reality, the mind tries to protect itself and produces delusions instead of facing realities that may be bleak and bitter. When we become aware of this, we can obtain help in coming to terms with these realities. We can also try to do good things for ourselves. If we can balance a "bad" by creating a "good" it can do a lot toward not giving delusions a foothold. 

Creating something good can take work, or it can be simple. Just starting a conversation with a friend is one very simple strategy for producing something positive. If you do not know how to start a conversation, you could start one by asking a person non-intrusive questions about him or her, such as the question, "How are you?" or "What have you been up to?" Usually questions like these will be taken well and could lead to a positive conversation. 

The process of stopping delusions could also be called the process of living well. We may not have total choices over what we are currently doing in life, yet, we continue to have small choices. Numerous small choices will add up and could redirect our life path for the better.