The realisation that you’re hearing voices can be a distressing feeling, but it’s actually a lot more common than you might think. The Mix finds out what it really means to hear voices, takes a look at some of the causes and explains how to get help.
I hear voices
In pop culture if a film character sees or hears things others don’t they’re usually seen as mentally unstable, dangerous, laughable and avoided at all costs. Depictions of hearing voices or having visual hallucinations in film and TV haven’t helped those who cope with the issue on a daily basis.
In reality hearing or seeing things that aren’t there is pretty common in young people and can happen for a number of reasons beyond having mental health problems.
What does hearing voices mean?
Hearing voices is also referred to as auditory hallucinations. Simply, this means hearing voices that other people around you don’t hear. This could also include seeing visions or having other sensory experiences that other people around you don’t see or notice. If you have similar experiences you’re not alone, as the team at Voice Collective, an organisation that supports young people with similar conditions, explains: “Almost 1 in 10 young people under 19 report hearing voices, which means it’s almost as common as having dyslexia or asthma.”
Why do I hear voices?
You might be freaking out if this is happening to you but you could be hearing voices for a number of reasons. Those include:
- You experienced a traumatic or life changing event
- Drugs or alcohol
- Physical illness
- Anxiety or feeling low
- Feeling like an outsider or different to your peers
Is it always negative?
It really depends on each person. Hearing voices can be a frightening and upsetting experience for some young people. For others, living with voices can be a comforting, supportive or even neutral experience. Voice Collective told us that if it isn’t causing you distress or difficulties you might not feel the need to share them with anyone around you.
“Some young people hear religious or spiritual voices, and it might be that hearing voices is seen as a special gift or ability, depending on your faith, culture or community,” says the Voice Collective team.
How do I get support for hearing voices?
Though it may feel overwhelming, it is possible to manage and learn to cope with distressing voices. First visit your GP and tell them what you’re experiencing. Take someone you trust with you if you feel unsure. From there you’ll be able to get support tailored to your needs.
Hearing voices can be a symptom or side effect of some conditions like bipolar disorder or psychosis. If it turns out that you have a mental health condition then it’s quite possible you’ll be able to get treatment that will stop the voices from happening. But just hearing voices alone doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental health issue. That’s why it’s important to speak to a doctor and figure out what’s going on.
Voice Collective also has a forum for young people who hear voices to share experiences and seek support.
I’m scared to tell other people I hear voices
Everyone worries about being judged or misunderstood and after dealing with the effects of hearing voices, many people avoid telling friends and family out of fear. Though it seems like a huge step, you deserve to have the support of someone you love at this time in your life.
“It’s always up to you what you share with them, and how much you share, so it might be helpful to write some stuff down that you’d like them to know about, or what you’d like the next step to be, in case you find it difficult to talk,” says the Voice Collective team.
See our article on how to talk about your mental health.
This is really distressing, how can I cope?
The experience of hearing voices can be upsetting. There are a variety of coping techniques you can try if your voices or visions are becoming too much. Always speak to your doctor if you feel unable to cope or contact Childline.
To cope with hearing voices try techniques such as:
- Challenging the voices or saying no to them
- Creating a profile of the voice, such as its gender, age or what triggers make it appear
- Writing down how you’re feeling in a diary or expressing your feelings in artwork
- Distracting yourself from the voices by wearing earplugs, singing or even watching TV
- Using a grounding technique like focusing on your feet or counting your breaths
- Keep your favourite object with you, such as a picture or toy
For more coping techniques visit Voice Collective.
You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393.
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By Holly Turner
Updated on 23-Aug-2023
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