Hearing voices

Hearing voices refers to the experience of hearing a voice when no one else is around or hearing a voice that other people cannot hear.1 It is sometimes described as an “auditory hallucination”.2

While hearing voices can be a symptom of some types of mental health problems, hearing voices is actually quite a common experience and not everyone who hears voices has a mental health problem.2 Research estimates that around 10% of people have had an experience of hearing voices at some point in their lives.3

Hearing voices

The experience of hearing voices is different for everyone. The voices can vary in how often you hear them, what they sound like, what they say, and whether they sound familiar or unfamiliar.2

Sometimes hearing voices can be upsetting or distressing, or they may say hurtful things or things that can be frightening. However, not everyone experiences this and for some people the voices may be neutral or more positive. People may have different feelings about their voices at different times in their lives.4

To learn more about living with voices, visit Mind’s information page which contains personal stories from people with experience of hearing voices.4

Causes

It is not yet fully understood why some people hear voices and others do not. However, there are certain experiences that can be associated with hearing voices or that can make the voices worse. This includes traumatic life experiences, feelings of stress or worry, or mental health problems such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.1,2

Sometimes, hearing voices can be due to things like lack of sleep, extreme hunger, or due to recreational or prescribed drugs.2

Getting support

If you are hearing voices, you can discuss this with your GP who can refer you onto other support.

The type of support you are offered will vary based on your circumstances, however common types of support offered include medication and talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).2

You may also be offered family intervention (where support is provided to both you and your family), art or creative therapy, or therapy for experiences of trauma.2 

For more details about the type of support available from the NHS for hearing voices, as well as what you can do if you are unhappy about the support you have been offered or have received, visit Rethink’s information page.2

Managing voices

Organisations like Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, Voice Collective, and Hearing Voices Groups suggest some of the following self-management approaches may be helpful, however, everyone will manage their voices in different ways and not all the suggestions below will be right for everyone.

Understanding your voices

Some people find that understanding how their voices relate to their lives can help them to feel more in control and more able to manage their voices.5

This could include keeping a diary or journal to record the voices, what they say, how they make you feel and how you manage them. This may help you to notice patterns of what makes you feel bad, what makes you feel good, or what triggers your voices.2,5-6

Taking control

Though it can be difficult, some people find strategies like standing up to the voices, choosing times to pay attention to the voices and times to not, or ignoring voices you don’t like and focusing on ones that are more positive or easier to listen to, can help them to feel more in control.5-7

Keeping busy

Listening to music, keeping up with hobbies that you enjoy, or finding creative outlets of expression (like writing, painting or making something) can be helpful ways for some people to distract themselves, express themselves, feel more relaxed and meet new people.2,6-7

Sharing your experiences

Attending peer support groups, or other places where you can talk to others who hear voices in a safe space, can help some people to feel less alone and can provide a non-judgemental space to feel listened to and accepted.5

This doesn’t have to be in person. There are also discussion and peer support groups available online such as Mind’s Elefriends, Intervoice Online Discussion Forum and the Voice Collective Support Forum (for young people aged 25 and under).

Looking after yourself

Though it can be difficult, it is important to look after and be kind to ourselves. This can include things like eating a healthy diet, finding ways to stay physically active (e.g. going for regular walks or an exercise class) managing stress through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises or spending time outdoors.2,5,7 It may help to set goals around these activities and to reward yourself for meeting or progressing toward these goals.2,6

Further information and resources

  • Hearing Voices Network – a charity that aims to raise awareness of the diversity of voices, visions and similar experiences, challenge negative stereotypes, stigma and discrimination and create spaces for people to talk freely about voice-hearing
  • Wales Hearing Voices Network – offer information, support and understanding to people who hear voices and those who support them
  • List of Hearing Voices Groups in Scotland
  • Intervoice – a charity that supports the International Hearing Voices Movement by connecting people, sharing ideas, distributing information, and encouraging high quality respectful research
  • Voice Collective – a UK-wide project that supports children and young people who hear voices, see visions, or have other unusual sensory experiences or beliefs
  • Mind Information Page – explains what it is like to hear voices, where to go for help if you need it, and what others can do to support someone who is struggling with hearing voices

Date last updated

This page was last updated on 15/11/2019

References

  1. Mind. (2018). Hearing Voices: About Voices. Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hearing-voices/about-voices/#.Xc6QxFf7SM8
  2. Rethink. (2019). Factsheet. Hearing Voices. Version 6. Retrieved from: https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/about-mental-illness/learn-more-about-symptoms/hearing-voices/
  3. Maijer, K., Begemann, M.J.H., Palmen, S.J.M.C., Leucht, S., & Sommer, I.E.C. (2018). Auditory hallucinations across the lifespan: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychol Med, 48(6): 879-888. Doi: 10.1017/S0033291717002367
  4. Mind. (2018). Hearing Voices: Living with Voices. Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hearing-voices/living-with-voices/#.Xc6QxVf7SM8
  5. Mind. (2018). Hearing Voices: Managing Voices. Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hearing-voices/managing-voices/#.Xc6NDFf7SM8
  6. Manchester Hearing Voices Group. (n.d.) Hearing Voices Coping Strategies. Retrieved from: http://www.hearing-voices.org/resources/free-downloads/
  7. Voice Collective. (n.d.) Empowerment Strategies. Retrieved from: http://www.voicecollective.co.uk/coping/empowerment-strategies/
  8. Voice Collective. (n.d.) Expressing Strategies. Retrieved from: http://www.voicecollective.co.uk/coping/expressing/