Hearing voices

When we talk about hearing voices, we mean someone who is hearing something others are not. These experiences can include all the senses, i.e. hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.

Youth Mental Health Hearing VoicesThese experiences can occur in one sense at a time (hearing a voice, for example, or smelling something), but they can also happen in combination.

Different experiences

We’re all unique, so it’s not surprising that voices and visions can be equally individual in terms of their identity, content, interpretation and impact.

For some, these experiences can be comforting. Someone who’s lonely may value a voice that becomes a trusted confidant, for example. However, for others it can be extremely confusing, upsetting and distressing.

How common is it?

Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that between 3 and 10% of the population hear voices that other people don’t.

If you include one-off experiences (like hearing someone call your name when you’re out shopping), this figure goes up to 75%. So, having at least one experience of hearing or seeing something is incredibly common.

Those who’ve never had this experience are in the minority.

Why do people hear voices?

There are lots of different theories and ideas to explain why people hear voices or see visions.

These include:

  • a special gift or sensitivity
  • trauma or adverse life experiences
  • spiritual experiences
  • biochemical (e.g. excess dopamine)
  • emotional distress
  • physical health problems.

Psychotic illness

People may hear voices when they have a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. Psychotic symptoms can also occur with other mental health disorders, such as mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder).

People who use illicit drugs may also develop psychotic symptoms.

Concern for your son or daughter

If you’re worried about your son or daughter hearing voices or having visions that others cannot hear or see, try to find a good time to discuss it properly with them.

Sometimes young people describe “voices” inside their head, which may be a misinterpretation of their own thoughts.

Between you and your son or daughter, it might be possible to figure out why they are having that experience. Together you can find a way of dealing with the experience that makes sense to you and your son or daughter.

Getting help

You should have your son or daughter assessed by your GP to make sure an underlying physical illness is not causing these experiences. They may refer them for further physical investigations if necessary.

Acknowledgements

Content adapted from the Hearing Voices Network

 

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