Experience common to many people
CONSUMER academic and Curtin University lecturer Lyn Mahboub says hearing voices is a common human experience that is not always linked to a mental health disorder.
“The first bit of research done by Professor Marius Romme found there was a range of people (who heard voices) who lived well in the community and didn’t have any distressing or mental health experiences,” she said.
“But they had a very strong framework of understanding why they heard the voices.
“For example, they may come from a long line of seers (psychics) in their family, so they can attribute the voices to something and set limits on them so they are less dominant and they are generally more positive.
“The voices may also be a cultural or spiritual experience where a person hears an ancestor or a lost relative following bereavement.”
Ms Mahboub said voices that presented themselves in a startling or negative manner were often the result of a past traumatic experience or adverse life events, including bereavement, bullying, divorce, physical or sexual abuse.
For example, a person may have internalised the voice of their bully or abuser and it is expressed through a negative voice.
Other voice-hearers have found voices take the shape of different emotions if they have not learned how to express how they feel.
Emotions such as guilt, shame and low self-worth can also be represented by voices conveying negative messages to an individual.
Ms Mahboub, who is part of the senior management team at Richmond Wellbeing and liaison to the Hearing Voices Network Australia, said voices often became distressing if an individual could not make sense of them.
“The Hearing Voices Network helps people to explore the meaning of distressing voices instead of saying they are simply and only a symptom of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia,” she said.
“Historically we were taught not to talk to people about the content of their voices’ experiences, because it was thought to do so was to buy into their delusions.
“But we now know that it is important to support people to be able to debrief about these experiences and develop techniques in how to cope with the voices, otherwise one can feel even more alone”
An international study led by the University of Queensland found one in 20 people had heard voices in their head.
The study was published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal.