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What ‘Am I Crazy?’ Really Means

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

Have you found yourself typing “Am I crazy?” into Google or asking Siri? You probably got back a patchwork of results, from online “sanity tests” to mental health forums.

Fortunately, most people who do such searches aren’t actually going “crazy,” as in developing delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations, says Gerald Goodman, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychology at UCLA.

“Believing that you are going crazy is a good clue that you are sane,” he says.

When someone is developing a serious mental illness with psychosis, such as schizophrenia, they usually don't know it. “Part of ‘crazy’ is getting away from reality,” Goodman says.

Marty Livingston, PhD, a New York psychologist and author, agrees. “They’re not aware of the difference between a feeling and a fact,” he says.

For instance, a healthy person might feel like someone is following them and know it's not true. “But somebody who’s really having an onset of psychosis believes that it’s true,” Livingston says.

Sure, you might ask “Am I crazy?” just to vent frustration, or to find an online mental health test. But Goodman and Livingston also offer these three possibilities:

1. Panic Attack

Your heart pounds. You're trembling or shaking, sweating, feeling dizzy. It's hard to breathe. And there's no obvious reason why.

Panic attacks can feel like you're losing your mind. But you're not, Goodman says. “Lots of people have them,” Goodman says. “Don’t fight the attack. Accept it as temporary helplessness.” Panic attacks typically pass in a few minutes.

He believes they are a main reason that people worry about their mental state. Some people have one or two panic attacks in a lifetime. Others have them often enough to be diagnosed with panic disorder (a condition that involves repeated panic attacks and the worry that panic attacks will keep happening). Either way, therapy (and, in some cases, medication) can help handle them.

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