How to get support if you hear voices

TW: This article includes references to hearing voices, psychosis, schizophrenia, abuse and bereavement.

We spoke to the experts at Voice Collective, a project supporting children and young people up to 25 who may be hearing voices, seeing things, or having other sensory experiences and beliefs that other people around them don’t. Here is their guide to what it means to hear voices and how you or someone you know can get support for this.

What does hearing voices mean?

When we’re talking about voices and visions, it’s not just about hearing voices in your head; we’re talking about people seeing, hearing or sensing things that other people around them don’t. It can also include having a strong inner critic, and sometimes people who struggle with obsessions and compulsions or disordered eating can have what is described as a voice in their head. Some people have experiences like voices or visions which comfort, inspire or make them laugh. For some, their experience might be more neutral and it’s just part of their day-to-day life. Others have experiences that are more frightening and confusing. It’s usual for people to have all kinds of experiences, positive and neutral as well as negative!

How common is it to hear voices?

Research varies, but around 8% of young people hear or see things regularly. It’s way more common than people think! So, if you’re one of those people, you’re not alone. All kinds of people have these experiences (even famous people!).

What’s it like to hear voices?


Some people hear voices talking when no one is around. These could be like the voices of people they know, or complete strangers. They might hear many voices, or just one. Voices can shout, whisper, be clear or muffled. They can speak in sentences or say single words. These voices can be of different genders, old or young. Sometimes they have names, but not always. People can hear other types of sounds too, including knocking, crying or music.


Some people see things that others don’t. These visions can be very clear and realistic, but they can also include fuzzy shapes, shadows and beams of light. Sometimes, it can seem as if people or objects around you are changing shape.


Some people smell things that remind them of their past. This could be something nice, like a favourite food or their mum’s perfume. Other times people might smell other things that people around them don’t, or smell things that they associate with difficult experiences.


It can be difficult to know if you’re tasting something that others can’t – unless you taste something in your food and get someone else to try it too; this can be difficult to deal with. Some people get a strong bitter taste in their food or drink and, understandably, start to worry that there is something wrong with it. Others may taste things when they’re not eating or drinking. They may taste something pleasant (like a favourite food) or something they dislike (perhaps something bitter or metallic).


Some people can feel things on their skin when there doesn’t seem to be anything there. They might feel something crawling over their skin, tickling them, or pushing them. Sometimes people feel something underneath their skin, which can feel really disturbing.

Understandably these experiences can be very confusing and frightening. It’s not as simple as this, though. For others, these experiences can be reassuring. For example, a young person who feels upset and lonely may feel reassured by a gentle hand on their shoulder.

Why do I hear voices in my head?

There is no single or straightforward answer as to why people hear voices or see visions. There are lots of different ideas about this. For example, trauma or difficult life events are associated with sensory experiences and can include being bullied, changing schools, problems at home (divorce or arguing), abuse, bereavement, being the victim of, or witnessing, a crime – anything that makes you feel overwhelmed or powerless. These events can leave you with powerful thoughts and feelings that can be linked to the voice or vision in some way. But voices and visions can also be considered a special gift or a spiritual experience in some cultures – hearing the voice of God or their ancestors for example. Other young people may have some of these experiences because of a physical health problem, or after experimenting with drugs. Some young people understand their experiences as being part of a mental health issue.

Check out The Mix’s bullying support area, mental health resources and our article on how to cope with grief and bereavement.

Does hearing voices mean you have Psychosis or Schizophrenia?

If someone’s voices, visions, or beliefs have a severe negative impact on their behaviour, or their relationships with other people, they may be diagnosed with psychosis. Psychosis is a medical umbrella term for when people seem to have very muddled or confused thinking or have beliefs and experiences that many other people would find ‘strange’. Stress, trauma, drug use, overwhelming spiritual experiences and physical health problems can also cause periods of psychosis. With good support, people can try to deal with any underlying issues and recover.

Learn more about psychosis here and visit our drink & drugs support area.

About Schizophrenia

Psychosis can form parts of other medical diagnoses, including schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental health condition which can be diagnosed when someone experiences multiple episodes or consistent altered states including psychosis. It is, unfortunately, a diagnosis with a lot of negative media coverage, resulting in fear and stigma. Doctors may use this diagnosis when someone has more long-term difficulties with voices, visions, beliefs and muddled thinking – but it is rarely used for children and young people in the UK.

Learn more about schizophrenia here.

If you are diagnosed

If you or someone you know receives a diagnosis of psychosis and/or schizophrenia, try to remember that psychosis and schizophrenia are merely labels which attempt to describe your experiences: they should not define you, or how you understand your own experiences. These diagnoses cannot predict or dictate the future and it’s ok to disagree with them.

How to cope with hearing voices

Hearing, seeing or sensing things others don’t doesn’t mean that your life is over. You can find ways of dealing with them and live the life you choose.

Life isn’t always easy. When times are tough it’s really helpful to have a toolbox full of ideas and strategies to help you cope. If you are supporting someone with their mental health and wondering how to help someone who hears voices, these strategies can be really helpful too.

Calming strategies are designed to help you feel calmer, safer and more secure if the voices and visions are leaving you feeling scared or anxious.

Blocking strategies can help you block out the voices, stopping them for a time or making them quieter or further away.

Expressing strategies are designed to help you express some of the feelings or experiences you’re having if you’re finding it difficult to share what’s going on for you, or if you’re not sure how you’re feeling.

Empowering strategies – No matter what the voices say, if we feel empowered and more sure of ourselves it can be easier to deal with them. Empowerment strategies are about exploring and changing the power balance between us and the voices.

More support for hearing voices

Take a look at our other support article about hearing voices for more information on this subject.

Join one of Voice Collective’s peer support groups to talk to other young people who can relate to what you’re going through and have similar experiences. They also offer other forms of support, and you can get in touch with them via their website or email [email protected].

If you are feeling nervous about opening up about your experience, don’t worry – that’s completely normal and understandable, you might want to read our guide on how to talk about your mental health to support you with the first steps.

Join The Mix’s supportive online community to talk about anything and everything in a safe, moderated space.

Learn more about Voice Collective and read their advice for coping with hearing voices.

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 09-Mar-2023

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