Hear­ing voices is nor­mal

> Au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tion is ex­pe­ri­enced by one in eight of the pop­u­la­tion, and most com­monly by those who are over the age of 60

The Sun (Malaysia) - - LIFESTYLE -

there or I was imag­in­ing it.

There are many ways in which hear­ing voices varies, aside from fre­quency. Some peo­ple hear only bad voices. Oth­ers hear only good voices, sup­port­ing and re­as­sur­ing them. Many hear both good and bad.

For some the voices are of peo­ple they know. Some hear just the one voice, oth­ers hear many.

For some, the voices start as imag­i­nary child­hood friends, and for oth­ers, the first voice ar­rives much later in life.

A com­mon fea­ture, how­ever, is that most voice hear­ers, when asked, as­cribe mean­ing to their voices, and re­ject the no­tion that they are mean­ing­less ex­pres­sions of a chem­i­cal im­bal­ance or some other sup­posed bi­o­log­i­cal dys­func­tion.

Per­haps the most ob­vi­ous, and com­mon, ex­am­ple of voices be­ing mean­ing­ful are stud­ies show­ing that most peo­ple over 60 who lose a life part­ner, will hear or see their part­ner soon af­ter their death. Neg­a­tive voices are of­ten re­lated to ad­verse life events.

Four stud­ies of adults us­ing men­tal health ser­vices found that the con­tent of at least half of the voices of peo­ple who were phys­i­cally or sex­u­ally abused as chil­dren was re­lated to the abuse.

Other stud­ies re­port ex­am­ples of the voices be­ing the abuser.

One study de­scribed some­one who was suf­fer­ing on­go­ing sex­ual abuse by a vi­o­lent rel­a­tive, who heard the rel­a­tive’s voice telling the per­son to com­mit sui­cide.

It is usu­ally more help­ful in these sit­u­a­tions to ask if the per­son would like to talk about what hap­pened to him/her, rather than dis­miss the voice as a mean­ing­less symp­tom of brain dis­ease.

There are count­less his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of voices where the per­son hear­ing them is con­vinced they have mean­ing – Je­sus and Joan of Arc among the most fa­mous.

How­ever, the no­tion that voices are ran­dom ex­pres­sions of a dis­eased brain, de­void of mean­ing, is a re­cent cre­ation, re­stricted to cul­tures where a med­i­cal model of hu­man dis­tress dom­i­nates.

When I was liv­ing in New Zealand, a col­league in­ter­viewed 80 Maori peo­ple about what causes peo­ple to hear voices.

As one re­spon­dent put it: “For me, hear­ing voices is like say­ing hello to your fam­ily in the morn­ing, it is noth­ing un­usual.”

An ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment in the last two decades is the emer­gence, all over the world, of peer-sup­port groups for voice hear­ers.

The mem­bers of these groups have much to teach us men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, es­pe­cially about how to lis­ten re­spect­fully, rather than dis­miss­ing peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences as symp­toms of an imag­ined ill­ness which has no re­li­a­bil­ity or va­lid­ity, and try­ing to sup­press those ex­pe­ri­ences with psy­chi­atric drugs.

Voices, like dreams, some­times carry im­por­tant mes­sages about a prob­lem that needs ad­dress­ing, such as trauma ear­lier in one’s life.

Per­haps men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als need to ask what the voices are say­ing a bit more of­ten, and as voice hearer Eleanor Long­den ex­plains in her TED talk, they should also ask: “What hap­pened to you?” – The In­de­pen­dent

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