- Hearing voices means hearing, seeing or sensing something that does not exist outside of someone’s mind
- Hearing voices can be distressing, especially the first time
- Some people find comfort in the voices they hear and it can be
possible to manage the voices in their head effectively.
We all speak to ourselves as we think and go about everyday life. Hearing voices is different to that ‘inner voice’ we all have. The voices or auditory hallucinations you hear may be the voice of someone you know, background mumbling, or a conversation between several different voices.
Everyone’s experience will be unique to them.
If you’re hearing voices, or experiencing other kinds of hallucinations, it can feel alienating, but
it’s important to remember you’re not alone and that support is available.
Hearing voices can be a common symptom of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder. But if that sounds scary, it’s worth noting that
it’s more common than you think. Auditory illusions (that’s hearing something that’s not real) are experienced by up to 1 in 10 people.
How does it feel to hear voices?
There’s no right or wrong way to feel if you’re hearing voices. Voices may call your name, give you advice, argue with you or threaten you. They can start suddenly and get louder over time. It can be difficult to tell your friends or family about voices for fear of being judged or misunderstood. This can be really isolating, but support is available.
If you hear voices or have other auditory hallucinations you may feel some or all of the following:
- Confusion, uncertainty or nervousness
- Questioning yourself or your experiences
- Distress, distrust or paranoia
- Low self-esteem or worthlessness
- Feeling annoyed, distracted or overwhelmed
- These voices may be familiar or comforting
- Some people may feel creative or excited.
It’s important to remember that there’s no right way to feel if you or someone you care about is hearing voices. You can find out more about it here, or if you think you are experiencing auditory hallucinations, your GP can help.
In movies or TV programmes, a character who sees or hears something that isn’t there is often depicted as dangerous, unstable or laughable. These stereotypes can be damaging for those who deal with hearing voices on a daily basis. In fact, seeing, hearing or sensing things that aren’t there is actually quite common. As many as 1 in 10 people under 19 hear voices, which makes it almost as common as dyslexia or asthma.
Why do people hear voices?
There’s usually an identifiable reason that someone hears voices. 70% of auditory hallucinations are triggered by abuse, an accident, or the loss of a loved one, but they can also be caused by a mental health condition. It’s worth noting that if you identify the voice you’re hearing as your own “inner voice”, then it isn’t an auditory hallucination – we all speak to ourselves as we think and go about everyday life.
Hearing voices can be caused by:
- Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- Alcohol or drugs
- Severe lack of sleep, dehydration, or hunger
- A high fever
- The loss of a loved one
- A progressive neurological condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease
- Loss of vision caused by a condition such as macular degeneration – this is known as Charles Bonnet syndrome
If you’re experiencing hallucinations you should see your GP. They’ll be able to work with you to find out why you’re hearing voices and offer treatment or support.
Where can I find help?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline staff are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
- Contact your GP for an appointment (which might be done over the phone or by video – during covid19).
- Self-refer yourself to NHS Psychological Therapies here.
Dealing with hearing voices
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing auditory hallucinations, it’s important to remember that treatment is available, but there are also a few practical steps that can help you, or someone you care about, cope with hallucinations.
- Be aware of your environment. Our environment can play a huge part in how we feel. A poorly lit room, or loud chaotic setting may increase the likelihood of a hallucination.
- Try to stay calm. Hallucinations can be really frightening and uncomfortable, but staying calm can help stop things spiralling out of control.
- Use distractions. Hearing voices can feel very draining and sometimes, scary. If you’re able to, try distractions like music, conversation with a loved one, or moving to another room. If you put on your favourite music, listen to the singer’s voice, tune into the melody to help reframe your experience from draining, to entertaining
- Be honest. If you’re experiencing a hallucination, being open about what you’re going through can be helpful. If you’re with someone who is having an auditory hallucination, try not to dismiss their concerns.
- Maintain routines where you can. Day-to-day routines can be useful, making it less likely for hallucinations to occur. Keeping a record of when you tend to experience hallucinations can also be helpful in working out circumstances that may trigger them.
- Sing your heart out. Hearing your own voice can break the process that creates voices and this can reduce the intensity of the voices
- Plug it! Wearing earplugs in one ear can reduce voice activity by 50%
- Talk to someone. You don’t have to deal with the voices or feel alone, you can talk to someone else be it family, friends, your GP or a helpline. A different conversation might help reduce the intrusiveness
Talking about hearing voices
It can be difficult to talk about hearing voices with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling:
“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. Things are tough, and I think I might be hearing voices. I don’t need you to find a solution, I just want to talk to someone about it”
“I need to talk – I’ve been hearing voices and I’m really struggling with it.”
“You might have noticed I’ve not been around so much lately. I’ve been finding things difficult, and think I might be hearing things that other people don’t.”