Skip to main content Accessibility help

Unusually persistent complainants

  • Grant Lester (a1), Franzcp Beth Wilson (a1), Lynn Griffin (a1) and Paul E. Mullen (a1)



Querulous paranoia may have disappeared from the psychiatric literature, but is it flourishing in modern complaints organisations and the courts? Aims To investigate the unusually persistent complainants who lay waste to their own lives and place inordinate demands and stress on complaints organisations.


Complaints officers completed questionnaires on both unusually persistent complainants and matched controls.


Persistent complainants (distinguished by their pursuit of vindication and retribution) consumed time and resources and resorted to both direct and veiled threats. Attempts to distinguish these people from a control group on the basis of the manner in which their claims were initially managed failed.


Persistent complainants' pursuit of vindication and retribution fits badly with complaints systems established to deliver reparation and compensation. These complainants damaged the financial and social fabric of their own lives and frightened those dealing with their claims. The study suggests methods of early detection and alternative management strategies.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Unusually persistent complainants
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Unusually persistent complainants
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Unusually persistent complainants
      Available formats


Corresponding author

Professor Paul E. Mullen, Thomas Embling Hospital, Locked Bag 10, Fairfield, Victoria 3078, Australia. E-mail:


Hide All

Declaration of interest




Hide All
Caduff, F. (1995) Querulanz–ein verschwindendes psychopathologisches Verhaltensmuster? Forschritte der Neurologie Psychiatrie, 63, 504510.
Clérambault, G. de (1921) Les psychoses passionnelles. Reprinted 1942 in Oeuvres Psychiatriques , pp. 315322. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Douglas, M. (1992) Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge.
Freckelton, I. (1988) Querulent paranoia and the vexatious complainant. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 11, 127143.
Heydt, A. van der (1952) Querulatoische Entwicklungen. Halle: Marhold.
Jaspers, K. (1923) General Psychopathology. Reprinted 1963 (trans. Hoenig, J. & Hamilton, M. W.). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Kolle, K. (1931) Über Querulanten. Archiv fürPsychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 95, 24102.
Kraepelin, E. (1904) Lectures in Clinical Psychiatry (trans. & ed. Johnson, T.). London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1879) Uber den sogenannten Querulantenwahnsinn. Allgemeine Zeitschrift der Psychiatrie, 35, 395419.
Kretschmer, E. (1934) A Textbook of Medical Psychology (4th edn) (trans. Strauss, E. B.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McKenna, P. J. (1984) Disorders with overvalued ideas. British Journal of Psychiatry, 145, 579585.
Pichot, P. (1982) The diagnosis and classification of mental disorders in French-speaking countries: background, current views and comparison with other nomenclatures. Psychological Medicine, 12, 475492.
Rowlands, M. W. (1988) Psychiatric and legal aspects of persistent litigation. British Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 317323.
Schneider, K. (1958) Psychopathic Personalities (9th edn, trans. Hamilton, M. W.). London: Cassell.
Stalstrom, O. W. (1980) Querulous paranoia: diagnosis and dissent. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 14, 145150.
Ungvari, G., Pang, A. & Wong, C. (1997) Querulous behaviour. Medicine, Science and the Law, 37, 265270.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Unusually persistent complainants

  • Grant Lester (a1), Franzcp Beth Wilson (a1), Lynn Griffin (a1) and Paul E. Mullen (a1)
Submit a response


Bullying breeds paranoia

Jose L. Gonzalez de Rivera, Professor of Psychiatry
29 September 2005

This is an excellent article, and much to the point. But it misses very important question: whence does the unusual behaviour of the “persistent complainant” come from? It is easy to conclude, as indeed the authors seem to imply, that it is idiosyncratic, a process, in Jasperian terms. However, we suspect that, in many cases, it may be a reaction to abnormal external circumstances. We have some data to back this contention. We have applied the Spanish version of Derogatis´ SCL90R questionnaire to 194 consecutive complainants registered by the Spanish Association against Psychological Harassment at the Workplace. Our subjects had been previously tested with the LIPT-60 (Leymann Inventory ofPsychological Terrorization – 60 items) and interviewed by psychological trained officers of the Association, who excluded those who had no objective basis for their complaints. Our results show that the general scores and all the dimensions of psychopathology were far higher in the complainants than in the general population. In addition, the scores for the dimensions of Paranoid Ideation, Hostility and Obsession-compulsion were significantly higher than in 331 ambulatory psychiatric patients of mixed diagnosis, mainly in the neurotic range. Further testing of a subsample of subjects (n=30) with psychiatric interview and the Rorschach Psychodiagnostic Test showed evidence of a “secondary paranoia”, which differs in several aspects of the characteristics of patients with paranoid personality and paranoid disorders. unlike paranoid patients, most of the complainants have responses with “texture”, psychological damage and situational stress determinants).We concluded that permanence in a hostile or persecutory environment in the workplace produces severe reactive psychopathology, and facilitates the development of a retaliatory attitude that fits with the construct of paranoid ideation.We will be very grateful to the authors if they were to further study their sample, in an attempt to confirm our findings.JL Gonzalez de Rivera and MJ Rodriguez-Abuin, Institute of Psychotherapy, Madrid, Spain ... More

Conflict of interest: None Declared

Write a reply


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *