Not everyone who hears voices is psychotic


By David Joel Miller.

Did you hear that?

People in our society tend to think that hearing voices means you are crazy. We tell stories about this and we laugh at jokes, sometimes not to nice stories and jokes. It makes some of us feel safer to think that those who hear voices are not like us. We say that, even when we have heard the voices.

The truth is that most people hear voices. Sometimes we count the voices towards a mental illness and sometimes we don’t. The counting makes something a problem and other things, not so much.

The majority of all teenagers hear and have heard voices. One author says as many as 70% of all teens hear voices. Don’t be so quick here.

Have you ever thought you heard someone calling your name, looked over your shoulder and saw no one there? Did you shrug it off? Did you pretend it didn’t happen? Some people think if they don’t admit they have symptoms then they are all right.

Truth is our brains sometimes try to help us out and sometimes they are wrong when they do it. You hear a sound. You can’t make it out. Your brain turns it into the closest thing to something it recognizes, tells you someone is calling your name. Sometimes it may only be your own thoughts but if you are concentrating on something you forget which is in your head and which is in your ear. Your brain makes up a story to help you out. Sometimes the brain is wrong.

Sometimes we get thoughts in our head. It is like someone is telling us do this – no don’t. Some people interpret this as an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other or maybe it was your conscience. For a moment the voices sound real. But when you try to get them to stop can you make them shut up? People with a psychosis like schizophrenia can’t make the voices stop when they try.

Ever see or hear a dead relative come back to talk with you? How about an angel or religious figure? One rule psychologists follow is if this thing you see or hear is religious in nature or if you are grieving then we tend to disregard that experience. It happens a lot, you should get over it on your own. If not seek help.

If the thing you see or hear is all good and encourages you to do well, we are not so worried here. Unless it bothers you or the voices get too loud for you to think. But if the voice in your head tells you to kill people or break laws, we think this may be a big problem.

Ever been lying in bed and thought you saw or heard something in the room? When you are about to fall asleep or if you are asleep and start to wake up, images and experiences from your dream world can get dragged into the conscious world. We have special names for this, hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. We don’t count those experiences as a mental illness either, not most of the time, because most normal people have these.

I should also mention that most hallucinations involve hearing things. Most of the times when people see things it is drug or alcohol induced. People with mental illness usually hear things, at least in the early stages.

We should also mention here that auditory hallucinations caused by mental illness are about the rarest kind of mental illness. There is much more depression and anxiety out there than schizophrenia. Not all people with schizophrenia are paranoid and not all people with paranoia have schizophrenia. Not by a long shot.

So aren’t people with schizophrenia violent and scary. No not really. People with a mental illness are no more likely to get violent than anyone else. If someone is hearing voices give them some room, don’t crowd them and for sure call for some professional help.

So don’t people who hear voices scare me? Not half as much as the person who just found out their spouse was cheating on them and now they have brought their gun to work to fix this situation.

There is a great training on what to do if you encounter someone with a mental health crisis.  That program is called Mental Health First Aid. Have I mentioned that before? Check my other posts for more info. This was just a quick look at the whole area of hallucinations and mental illness. If you or someone you know has a problem in these areas please seek out professional care.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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6 thoughts on “Not everyone who hears voices is psychotic

  1. Pingback: What are the six kinds of hallucinations? | counselorssoapbox

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  3. Pingback: What is the difference between depression and Major Depressive Disorder? | counselorssoapbox

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    • There is a tab at the top of the page to take you to an “about the author bio.” Short answer here is that I am a therapist and a counselor. That includes 6 years of college and further study after graduation to pass license exams. I have read more books and research after graduation than I did in school. Teaching other beginning counselors also keeps me studying and learning. I also see clients with both mental health and substance use disorders every week. As to why I write the blog I think the title “counselorssoapbox” sums it up. I am a counselor and this is my opportunity to express my opinion on issues related to mental health, substance use disorders and having a happy life. Writing the blog posts is something I do in my very rare “spare time.” For me two things have always made me happy, learning new things and sharing what I learned. The counselorssoapbox.com blog is my chance to do those things.

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