Can Deaf People Hear Voices? One man experiences a voice projected in his brain “like a ghost”. A woman hears voices “shouting through her stomach” accompanied by “black, shadowy lips”; another hears her sister’s voice talking to her at night when she is in bed “like it is coming from a transmitter or a radio”.
These three people are deaf. They, along with 50 per cent of all deaf people with schizophrenia, ‘hear’ voices. It is hard to imagine an experience more strange, unsettling and counterintuitive. Research carried out recently has begun to unpick this contradictory psychological phenomenon, and may change the way that voice hallucinations are understood in hearing people too. Gizmodo, 29th December 2014
Dispelling the stigma around ‘hearing voices’ Auditory voice hallucinations have always been part of Jacqui Dillon’s life. “I started hearing voices when I was three years old,” says the writer and National Chair at Hearing Voices Network UK to WIRED.co.uk. “It was almost as if my mind had a really creative way of helping me survive,” notes Dillon, who faced some difficult experiences as a child and young woman.
“Voice hearing” or “auditory voice hallucinations” have been associated with madness and schizophrenia in the UK and other Western countries. Yet beyond these clinical interpretations, we’re familiar with the idea of novelists and creatives deploying the voices in their heads to create characters for their works.
So why has this phenomenon been so stigmatised, rather than accepted as another aspect of human experience?”The idea of “hearing a voice” generates fear and suspicion [among others]. There are assumptions about people being violent or mad,” says senior researcher at the Centre of Medical Humanities at Durham University, Angela Woods to WIRED.co.uk. She points, however, to the long tradition of voice hearing in human history, and asserts there have been situations and cultural contexts when it was considered an “ordinary aspect of human experience”.
Woods is part of a group of 18 UK-based and international researchers from the Hearing the Voice project, who are set on debunking the prejudices associated with voice hearing. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the researchers — who hail from different disciplines — have joined forces to argue that this can be both a positive and negative experience. The aim of their project is to shed light on the phenomenon holistically, within a wider social, cultural and scientific context. Wired.co.uk (UK), 23rd December 2014
Emmerdale spoilers: Belle Dingle is revealed to be hearing the voice of late friend Gemma A troubled Belle’s mental health issues were spotlighted in episode of UK soap opera. The full extent of Belle Dingle’s mental health problems have been revealed, with the character shown to be hearing the ‘voice’ of her dead friend Gemma Andrews.
Scenes just broadcast during tonight’s episode of Emmerdale saw Belle steal vodka and then go on a rampage at David’s shop, only for her then viewed to be acting on the orders of ‘Gemma’.
A distressed Belle was seen pleading: “I am begging you now, please just leave me alone. I’ve done everything that you’ve asked. I wrote that stuff on the house. I smashed the window. Mum and dad don’t have a lot of money – they can’t keep on fixing things.”
Getting increasingly agitated, Belle then said: “Please, Gemma, just stop it. Leave me alone!” Radio Times (UK), 9th December 2014
Some People Like the Voices in Their Heads In a meeting held yesterday, neuroscientists and psychologists from Durham University’s Hearing the Voices project, an initiative to study auditory hallucinations and how they affect people in different cultural contexts, answered questions about their work. Among the things they discussed was the misconception that hearing voices is always a negative experience for people. David Smailes, a postdoctoral research associate in psychology, explained that for many, it’s quite the opposite: Hearing voices can be a really distressing experience, but for some people, they aren’t. E.g., a Dutch study reported that in a sample of voice-hearers who were not receiving any psychiatric help, 71% reported only positive or neutral voices, 25% heard positive and negative voices, and only 4% heard only negative voices, So, at least in some people, hearing voices can be a relatively positive experience.
For one thing, the research team further explained, the writers and storytellers they’ve interviewed will sometimes talk about the way they can “hear” the voices of the characters they’re creating. And many religious people have experienced hearing the voice of God, offering them comfort in times of distress. At one point, a Reddit user chimed in with a story about his own positive experience with auditory hallucinations: “I’ve heard voices for most of my life and I used to think it was just the way thoughts work. I’ve described it like a council where different people weigh in on an issue with various perspectives. It really helped me mentally poke at a lot of confusing subjects when I was younger”. We humans, including all of the extra voices some of us are carrying around, are pretty fascinating. New York Magazine (USA) 11th December 2014
Robot Therapy for Hallucinated Voices Those who experience auditory apparitions say it has to do with identity, not mental illness. Adam has a voice with a unique name and identity. Jacqui hears hundreds of different voices. Dolly’s voices led her to believe she was Jesus. The voices John experienced drove him to the edge.
Voice hearing is often understood to be a symptom of mental illness, but many voice hearers refute this diagnosis, believing the voices they hear are based on significant events that have shaped their lives.
Through their stories, we explore what it means to hear voices and discover how the phenomenon is being understood—through medieval tales of demonic visions, childhood language cognition, a Dutch psychiatrist helping voice hearers find meaning in their voices, and a pioneering avatar-therapy using computer technology. The Atalantic, 10th December 2014
Bargaining with the voices in our heads The lessons of the hearing voices movement have been life-changing for people like Berta Britz. She now bargains with her voices, promising to talk with them 20 or 30 minutes each night in exchange for not intruding during the day. “By setting up boundaries, I changed the relationship to them having all of the power and my having none, to both of us having some power,” said Britz. While one entirely negative voices remains, she said the others have become less negative and even supportive. Now, “I have one who will sometimes tell a joke,” she said.
The World Hearing Voices Movement was started by Dutch psychiatrists Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. Their research demonstrated that hearing voices does not necessarily correlate with a psychiatric diagnosis. Their other findings also defied prevailing medical treatment of voice-hearing. Romm and Escher discovered that in 70 percent of voice-hearing cases, the voices are related to past trauma.
People who tell their doctors that they hear voices might be told to ignore them, have their medications upped, or even told to wear headphones to drown the voices out, said Mark Salzer, a psychologist and Director of the Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities at Temple University. In other words, “There’s no way you could possibly do anything in your life while you’re still hearing voices so we need to medicate, medicate, medicate,” said Salzer. So putting trauma—not pathology—at the root of voice-hearing is a helpful change, said Salzer. The other benefit of the world hearing voices movement? “Bringing people together for peer support,” said Salzer. The movement encourages voice-hearers to start their own local support chapters, and it’s been instrumental in raising awareness of alternative treatments to hearing voices. NewsWorks Philadelphia (USA), 4th December 2014
If psychosis is a rational response to abuse, let’s talk about it Many people consider their “psychotic” experiences a vital survival tool, but above all they need to make sense of their experiences.
There is something of a sea change in the way we understand experiences that have traditionally been labelled as psychotic. In our culture at least, experiences such as hearing voices or seeing visions have long been viewed by the medical establishment as unequivocal symptoms of mental illness. Treatment has tended to focus on the suppression of such “symptoms” using antipsychotic medication.
Research (often funded by drugs companies) has been largely concerned with the brain as a physical organ, rather than with the person within whose head it is housed, or indeed with their life experience. And, because of the presumption that psychotic symptoms are the preserve of mentally ill people, estimates of the numbers affected have been based on the numbers who have received a particular diagnosis.
But a report published last week by the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology, challenges many of these assumptions. Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia presents a compelling case for trying to understand psychotic experiences as opposed to merely categorising them. It argues that such experiences can be understood from a psychological perspective, in the same way as other thoughts and feelings, rather than being placed on the other side of an artificial sick/healthy divide. The Guardian (UK) 2nd December 2014
Hearing Voices Network helps Vancouver woman live with auditory hallucinations Auditory hallucinations afflict an estimated 40,000 British Columbians; new coping procedure has yet to win universal acceptance. Feature article about voice hearer Renea Mohammed who has set up a hearing voices group in Vancouver.
Hearing Voices support groups gave her an extra set of tools to help her cope when the voices returned, including visualization techniques. “I used to envision myself as being in a cave,” Mohammed said. “And the voices, I would envision as being these tentacles lashing into the cave, and then I envisioned sort of a shield that was protecting me, which was my anger at the voices. That helped me.” Mohammed said some people experience a mix of both positive and negative voices, and learn to “harness the positive voices as allies” in order to fend off the negative ones.
Various forms of distraction work as well, Mohammed said, such as a rhyming technique she has used to block out the voices. These techniques have been taught across the globe by hundreds of Hearing Voices groups. The Hearing Voices Network came to B.C. in 2012 when Gill Walker, an occupational therapist for the North Shore Adult Community Mental Health Services, started a group in North Vancouver. “It’s pretty fascinating,” said Walker, who learned about it while working in the United Kingdom in 2009. “They give people an opportunity to see voices as something other than illness. That shift in thinking can then shift their relationship with their voices.” The Province (Canada), 1st December 2014
Mental health needs better understanding, says top psychologist Sara Meddings, a hearing voices movement member working from the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is among the UK experts who have contributed to a new report aimed at improving the understanding and treatment of psychosis. Sussex Partnership is working to increase access to psychological therapies for psychosis and has been supporting self-help hearing voices groups for more than 12 years. The Argus (UK), 1st December 2014
Understanding psychosis and schizophrenia A report published today by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology challenges received wisdom about the nature of mental illnesJacqui Dillon, Chair of the UK Hearing Voices Network, said: “This report is an example of the amazing things that are possible when professionals and people with personal experience work together. Both the report’s content and the collaborative process by which it has been written are wonderful examples of the importance and power of moving beyond ‘them and us’ thinking in mental health”. Medical Express (UK) 28th November 2014
Last years Wellcome Trust’s screenwriting fellowship grant used by Clio Bernard to explore hearing voices with the hearing voices movement Last year’s recipient of the inaugural fellowship was Clio Barnard, acclaimed director of films such as The Arbor and The Selfish Giant. Barnard, who is currently adapting Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass, spoke at length how her year spent focusing in particular on the science and psychology of memory, hallucination and the human condition had opened her eyes to a world of knowledge and perception she had never considered.
Barnard also used her grant to meet with Wellcome Trust-supported projects involved in the hearing voice movement, which examines the stigma around hearing voices and aural hallucinations. The Guardian, (UK) 27th November 2014
Delusions and hallucinations may be the keys that unlock psychosis The symptoms of psychosis were once dismissed as the meaningless product of diseased brains. A new report recommends clinicians take them more seriously. The Guardian (UK) 27th November 2014
Study finds some schizophrenics do well without long-term antipsychotics Though certainly not an option for all or even most patients, going off antipsychotic meds does seem to work for some who are able to develop coping mechanisms, according to a Chicago study. She was a college senior when she began hearing voices: matter-of-fact ones, at first, observing, “She’s early,” or “She’s late,” and then bolder ones blaring messages about politicians, aliens and psychic phenomena. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she spent a month in the hospital and a year struggling with nearly nonstop hallucinations. At one point, she says, she was taking at least six psychiatric medications, including two strong antipsychotics. But today she’s off her medications and doing well, an articulate 30-something with a master’s degree and a full-time job at a tech startup.”I have a job I really love,” she says. “I work for a small company that’s trying to get bigger, so I think they like that I’m a little outspoken.”
The conventional wisdom is that people diagnosed with schizophrenia, the most severe and disabling mental illness, need to keep taking powerful antipsychotic medications to avoid disastrous relapses. That’s the message stressed by the American Psychiatric Association in its treatment guidelines, which allow for some patients to go off antipsychotics but emphasize the risks. And that’s an underlying theme of mental health awareness campaigns. But in the last decade, University of Illinois at Chicago professor emeritus Martin Harrow has shed light on a largely hidden subset of schizophrenia patients who stop taking antipsychotics and function relatively well.
Harrow, whose Chicago Follow-Up Study charted the progress of 139 young people with severe mental illness for 20 years, found that at each follow-up assessment, 30 percent to 40 percent of the 70 patients with schizophrenia and related disorders were not taking antipsychotics. And by the fifth year of the study, the schizophrenia patients who were off antipsychotics for extended periods actually were doing better than the patients who were on antipsychotics — perhaps because they had been less ill to begin with. Chicago Tribune (USA), 26th November 2014
Going Deeper into “Madness”: ISPS 2015′s International Dialogue The international conference in NYC aims to compress a lot of such dialogues into just a few days! This conference will bring together not just people from all over the world but also people holding a wide variety of perspectives: psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, people with lived experience, family members; and people from schools of thought as varied as psychodynamic, CBT, Open Dialogue, Art Therapy, the Hearing Voices Movement, and biomedical perspectives. Madness In America (USA), 23rd November 2014
How to Live With Hallucinatory “Voices” Without Drugs A European-centered movement is trying to change the perception that hearing voices is bad.
One organization, called Intervoice, takes the position that hearing voices can even be beneficial. Morin’s interview with a doctor and two people who hear voices delves into this theory. One of the patients says:
[Dr. Corstens and I] started to work with each other five years ago, or more. I was around 20 years old. It took about two years of work to actually figure out what the relationships were, what the triggers for the voices were, and what feelings are coupled to these voices. Once you start to learn to express yourself and work out these problems on your own, the voices don’t have to act out their part. Now, when I hear voices, I know what triggered them. I ask, “What is happening with me? What am I neglecting in my own emotions?”
Schizophrenia has been stigmatized and misunderstood throughout history. John Forbes Nash, Jr. the Nobel-prize winning mathematician portrayed in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” lives with schizophrenia; some people have put hypothesized that Mary Todd Lincoln may have had it. Still, despite its long history, schizophrenia remains a difficult to treat, and Intervoice’s strategy is controversial.
At Scope, a blog published by the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann who’s studied auditory hallucinations across cultures, details some of the more contentious points of this theory: “They often reject the idea of schizophrenia, are hesitant about medication, and have a model of hearing voices that identifies sexual trauma as the most important cause of hearing voices,” she tells writer Rina Shaikh-Lesko. The approach will not work for everyone, but for some the harmful effects of hearing voices are lessened. The Smithsonian Magazine (USA), 17th November 2014
Imagining voices: A look at an alternative approach to treating auditory hallucinations Clinicians, including Marius Romme, MD, PhD, a Dutch psychiatrist and president of Intervoice, are exploring alternate ways to treat the problem of hearing distressing voices.
A recent interview with one of Romme’s colleagues, Dirk Corstens, MD, and two of his patients, was featured in The Atlantic.
Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, PhD, has worked extensively with people who hear voices, and a recent study she conducted compared the experiences of psychotic patients with auditory hallucinations living in three very different locales – San Mateo, California; Chennai India; and Accra, Ghana. Her team found that the voices of Indian and Ghanaian patients were more likely to be playful and benign, whereas those of U.S. patients were on average more threatening.
When Luhrmann took time to talk with me to discuss the implications of her research and the approach, which calls itself the Hearing Voices movement, she noted early on that although the treatments espoused by the movement won’t work for everyone, “The Hearing Voices approach is very important and has an important kernel to it.” Some of what the group advocates is controversial. “They often reject the idea of schizophrenia, are hesitant about medication, and have a model of hearing voices that identifies sexual trauma as the most important cause of hearing voices,” she says. But a growing body of scientific evidence shows that it may be useful to teach people to interact with their voices. The Hearing Voices movement, says Luhrmann, advocates seeing the voices as meaningful, treats them as people, respects the voices and encourages patients to interact with them with the help of a trained clinician. One of the patients featured in The Atlantic piece described how he learned to work with the voices he heard. Scope, Stanford University (USA) 13th November 2014.
Lady Gaga tells Miranda Sawyer about voices in her head Gaga seemed definitely out of it. Not drugged or drunk, but not all there. She kept shutting her eyes as though she was gathering herself. She told me, as she did Graham Norton, that she heard voices in her head as a child. How do you mean? I asked. “Just things… I would accuse things of happening that people around me didn’t notice were happening. And as I got older it started to make me feel sick, and it still makes me feel sick sometimes. I’ve gone through stages of being centred and then being addicted to drugs and alcohol, having difficulty handling the chaos in my mind. Then returning back to the centre.” Daily Mirror (UK), 12 November 2014
Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia Published by the Division of Clinical Psychology, British Psychological Society with contributions from Jacqui Dillon, Eleanor Longden, Rufus May from the Hearing Voices Movement. British Psychological Society (UK), November 2014
“The first time that I heard this voice, I was very much frightened,” the prisoner testified. “When I heard it for the third time, I recognized that it was the voice of an angel … The voice said to me: ‘Go into France!’ I could bear it no longer.”
Joan of Arc, who spoke these words before her execution in 1431, is just one of many notable voice-hearers cited in the literature of Intervoice, an advocacy organization for individuals living with auditory hallucinations. Other examples include Sigmund Freud, Winston Churchill, Socrates, William Blake, and Mahatma Gandhi. According to Intervoice founder Dr. Marius Romme, the lives of these extraordinary figures demonstrate the frequently benign nature of recurring hallucinations.
In many cases, Romme’s research has suggested, the phenomenon can even prove beneficial. “The problem,” he writes, “is not hearing voices, but the inability to cope with the experience.” In 1987, after two decades of clinical work, the Dutch psychiatrist began promoting a drug-free therapy in which patients were encouraged to accept and analyze their voices.
Some experts think the problem is how doctors and society treat people who hear things, not the voices themselves. The Atlantic (USA), 5th November, 2014
‘I heard voices in my head’: Lady Gaga says she uses outrageous costumes to deal with her ‘insanity’ she suffered as a youngster Lady Gaga uses her outrageous wardrobe for uses other than to grab attention and sell records. The 27-year-old says she heard voices in her head as a youngster and turned to her off the wall costumes to deal with her ‘insanity’ Gaga has spoken in the past of how she turned to cocaine in her late teens as she battled depression, but exposed the true extent of her mental struggle on The Graham Norton show. Wearing a huge feathered headdress the superstar replied openly about the trauma behind her extraordinary ensembles.
She said: ‘It’s how I deal with my insanity. From when I was young I had voices in my head, and for the longest time I was drinking and doing a lot of drugs, and it was the clothing and the artistry that saved me. I get sheer joy out of creativity, it’s like a psychedelic experience for me.’ Gaga was born Stefani Germanotta to wealthy religious parents and raised in Manhattan where she attended a Catholic all-girls school. She said of her upbringing: ‘I was very respectful of my parents but I was like a grenade that pulls out its own pin. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I wanted to go out and play music and when I couldn’t make music I went nuts and it made my parents nuts.’] Speaking on this Friday’s episode of The Graham Norton Show about her mother’s shock reaction to her nose piercing, she added: ‘Isn’t that ridiculous, of all the things I did? I was like, ‘Mom, really? I’m naked in every magazine’.’Daily Mail (UK) 5th November 2013
Darwin man discovers hidden talent after a lifetime of hearing voices Now, at the age of 69, he has discovered a talent for painting after having never touched a brush or pencil his entire life. Mr Morley said his colourful and abstract paintings are physical representations of the voices in his head. “Most of them have some degree to do with my visions and the things that I see and the things that I hear from those voices,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it and unless you’ve had that kind of experience you wouldn’t [know]. “It’s just something that’s there for me.”
Mr Morley was born into a large farming family that raised cattle and grew wheat in Queensland’s Central Highlands Region. He started hearing voices when he was four years old and they have stayed with him ever since. “You have arrogant voices and nasty voices, and good voices you can sit down and converse with,” he said. He said his mother also talked to unseen things and that he learned not to share their experiences with other people. “I thought if I said anything they’d heckle me and give me a hard time. So I didn’t say anything to anybody,” he said.
Mr Morley spent his early twenties working on farms and travelling around Australia with friends. He was stationed in the Mt Isa mines when the Vietnam War arrived in the late 1960s. “I tried to avoid that for a while but it eventually caught up with me and I went off to Vietnam,” he said. “We were young and filled with life, and we just wanted to … be there and do our best that we could at the time.” Witnessing another country crumble was so overwhelming that he temporarily stopped hearing the voices. “[They] seemed to disappear for the time being. It just switched off,” he said “I came back with a lot of problems. A lot of people said I was completely changed. I was arrogant and it was very hard to be social.” Mr Morley spent the next 20 years raising children with his first wife, before he started feeling really “hopeless and helpless” and fell into depression. He committed himself to a psychiatric ward and was re-admitted several times by his second wife throughout the early 2000s. He came to Darwin in 2011 and stayed with some of his children, before ending up homeless and living on the streets with long-grassers. “I mainly still associate with a lot of long-grass people who just accept me the way I am instead of change me,” he said. “I just can’t talk to anybody about [my experiences] because people just say ‘you’re off the planet’. “I’m not in this world. I’m not in society. I’m not able to mix with people.”
The turning point was when Mr Morley’s psychiatrist recommended him to the Day To Day Living (D2DL) drop-in centre in Darwin’s Rapid Creek. He spent many months feeling unsure and learning on computers, before eventually joining the group of painters, sketchers and sculptors that sit around the centre’s art table every afternoon. D2DL’s art program is led by Hearing Voices, a program for individuals with auditory hallucinations based around the theory of creative therapy. “I didn’t know what to do or where to start … I’d never done anything in my life; never touched a crayon,” Mr Morley said. The relaxation and the ability to concentrate on something is a new experience for me. A really new experience. “I was like ‘nobody’s going to like this stuff. I’m like a kid just starting off doing some colouring in’.” The centre’s team leader, Angela Greensill, was so “blown away” by Mr Morley’s first piece that she decided to frame it straight away. ABC Darwin (Australia), 31st October 2014
Hearing voices Director relies on inner self in making “Birdman’‘ “I have an inner voice or ego, whatever we want to call it, who’s a tyrant, a dictator, who’s never happy with what I do,” says director Alejandro G. Inarritu. “Especially in my creative process, which is very tortuous, it’s always full of doubts, it’s never satisfied. “I thought that would be a good thing to put it in a film because all of us, not just artists, but every human being, has an inner voice that talks to us and can be very cruel.” In the director and co-writer’s audaciously executed, mind-bending dark comedy, “Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” that cruel inner voice springs from its subject’s greatest success. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Michael Keaton plays an actor who reached the apex of fame playing a caped-and-cowled superhero decades ago. Keaton’s Riggan Thomson is now at a career nadir, attempting to rise with a Broadway vanity project. (Keaton has said, apart from the obvious parallels, he relates to Riggan less than to any other role in his career.) “It’s part of the mental reality of the film,” Inarritu says by phone from New York, “that it’s a film about a play of a film guy that’s doing a play that becomes a film — it’s full of mirrors and his dressing room is full of mirrors — it’s full of contradictions and mirrors in the mirrors.” Times Union (USA), 29th October 2014< /p>
When ‘The Gods’ Spoke to our Ancestors, Here’s What They Were Really Hearing From the Bible to Greek mythology, human history and religion are filled with references to divine voices delivering awe-inspiring messages to mankind. But according to a new study, these seemingly supernatural experiences have a more mundane, if still fascinating, origin: echoes. At an Acoustical Society of America conference on Monday, Steven J. Waller, an expert in archaeoacoustics — the use of sound in archaeological study — suggested that ancient people may have been disoriented by sound waves reflecting off cave surfaces and attributed the strange, seemingly human noises to gods. When people claimed to hear sounds emanating from the depths of a cave — or a burning bush, for that matter — it’s likely that they were experiencing an auditory hallucination.<
“Ancient mythology explained echoes from the mouths of caves as replies from spirits, so our ancestors may have made cave paintings in response to these echoes and their belief that echo spirits inhabited rocky places such as caves or canyons,” Waller said at the conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Waller noted that thunder and lightning were often attributed to ‘hoofed thunder gods,’ meaning that cave reverberations were also likely interpreted as thunder to inspire cave paintings and messages from “the gods.” “This theory is supported by acoustic measurements, which show statistically significant correspondence between the rock art sites and locations with the strongest sound reflection,” he added. News:Mic, 28th October 2014
World Hearing Voices Congress, Greece, 10-12 October 2014 Roz Oates, a doctoral student in Durham’s Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of Geography, who is also part of the ‘Hearing the Voice’ research team, recently attended the 6th World Hearing Voices Congress in Greece. In this post, she gives an account of keynote presentations at the Congress which can be viewed here. Hearing the Voice, October 23rd, 2014
Interdisciplinary research must sit at the heart of universities Bringing together great academic minds and diverse perspectives from different disciplines can transform university research. A recent project at Durham University called “Hearing the Voice” challenges conventional assumptions about the “problems” confronted by people who hear voices. By bringing together a range of disciplines, including humanities and social science researchers, it has opened up new avenues for thinking about the experience of hearing voices. The Conversation (UK) 20th October 2014
“I would not tell people when my voices were still very loud” Mae Harden is interviewed by Philly.com about her years of attempting to medicate away the voices she was hearing in her head, while hiding the truth as much as possible. “But I still kept one secret. I would not tell people when my voices were still very loud. I would not tell people how, if I was home at night, I’d actually have to go out in the street because it was way too loud in my house,” Harden told Philly.com. After 40 years of unsuccessful treatment, Harden found the Hearing Voices Network. The United States Hearing Voices Network now has about 20 groups clustered along the East and West Coasts, reports Philly.com, and is gaining popularity in 20 countries. The key to coping with voices, local hearing network leader Berta Britz told Philly.com, “is to acknowledge them – a direct contrast to all the psychiatrists over the years who told her to suppress them.” Madness in America (USA) 18th October 2014
Schizophrenics ‘likely to die 20 years younger’, study finds People suffering from schizophrenia die 20 years younger than those not living with the debilitating mental illness, doctors have warned. Health experts warned many of schizophrenics were dying from preventable, physical illnesses and better awareness was needed to combat the high mortality rate. A report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) found many people were not getting crucial healthcare, such as psychological therapies and physical health checks. This pushed the life expectancy of a schizophrenic down by a whole two decades, the report said. The root cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, but genetics, stress, substance abuse and even viral infections can trigger an episode. Schizophrenics can suffer from a wide range of life altering symptoms, such as hearing voices, delusions, paranoia, agitation, plus depression, social withdrawal, apathy and sharp, involuntary movements. ITV News 10th October 2014
Those troubled by hearing voices learn to manage the cacophony In 2009, Harden attended a training session with a fellow peer specialist, Berta Britz, where they learned about a growing international movement to change how society perceives – and how psychiatry treats – those who hear voices. Led by pioneering Dutch psychiatrists, peer support groups began popping up in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in the 1990s. They are now in 20 countries, including Uganda, Japan, and Australia.The United States Hearing Voices Network, formed in 2010, has about 20 groups clustered along the East and West Coasts. Pennsylvania’s only network is in Montgomery County, where Britz and Harden lead support groups in Norristown, Bridgeport, Pottstown, Bryn Mawr, Willow Grove, Hatboro, and soon Lansdale. Philly.com (USA), 7th October 2014
Free mental health conference in town A free conference which aims to challenge perceptions of mental health is to be held in Sleaford. The Hearing Voices Social Change forum takes place on Monday, October 13, at the New Life Conference and Events Centre, in Mareham Lane, from 9.30am to 4pm. A spokesman for the event said: “The forum has been created to promote a more humanistic understanding of mental health, to challenge stigma, discrimination, negative attitudes and a realisation that all human beings are vulnerable to mental health challenges.” There will be a number of speakers on the day, including the national chairman of the Hearing Voices Network in England Jacqui Dillon. Jacqui is a respected speaker, writer and activist, and has lectured and published worldwide on mental health issues. Sleaford Today (UK)2nd October 2014
What causes paranoia, hallucinations and grandiose ideas? The widespread symptoms typically associated with schizophrenia are at least as likely to be triggered by people’s environment as their genes, a new study suggests The Guardian, (UK) 1st October 2014
Can hearing voices help you achieve life goals? People urged to come forward Researchers at The University of Manchester are beginning a study to investigate whether hearing voices can help people to achieve important life goals. The study, led by Drs Filippo Varese and Sara Tai from the School of Psychological Sciences, follows earlier research, which suggests that even though in psychiatric patients hearing voices is often a sign of distress, many individuals in the general populations lead ordinary lives despite hearing voices. Some may even regard voice hearing as a positive experience.
The researchers need to talk to volunteers from the Greater Manchester area about their experiences of hearing voices – regardless of whether these are negative, positive or neutral ones.
Previous studies have shown that between 2-3% of the general population report hearing voices, which means there may be thousands of people in Greater Manchester who also hear voices. University of Manchester 25th September 2013
Interview With ‘The Voices’ Screenwriter Michael R. Perry The Voices stars Ryan Reynolds as Jerry. Jerry is a nice guy just getting through life. He has a job at a factory which makes bathroom fixtures. He has an apartment attached to a bowling alley. He has a crush on the new office hottie in accounting (played by Gemma Arteton). He’s chosen to help plan the company’s annual picnic. Despite his court appointed psychiatrist, and implied mental illness, he seems to be doing okay. That is until his self prescribed lack of medication means that he’s hearing voices, and he starts taking advice from his ‘talking’ cat and dog. His dog, Bosco is the good side of him, encouraging, positive. But, his feline friend, Mr. Whiskers looks at things a little different and starts to lead Jerry down a dark path. While the film takes place from different perspectives, its inspiration was firmly rooted in Perry’s reality. “I’ve always wanted to take honestly the perspective of people who say they see the world in a different way. And I’ve known a number of people who hear voices just by fluke,” Perry explains. “There used to be a guy that hung out in front of the gym that I would go to. He was actually brilliant and hung around in the library all day and he would have deep knowledge of esoteric subjects. And on other days things were talking to him and he was getting into arguments. And I just wanted to know what’s that like.” Filmoria (USA), 20th September 2014
Art that sheds light on schizophrenia Using images from medical science, artist Susan Aldworth has used her work to raise questions about what goes on in her head, and about human identity. Most of us understand schizophrenia as a terrifying list of symptoms – hearing voices, hallucinations and psychotic episodes. But for printmaker and filmmaker Susan Aldworth, this condition, which affects one in 100, raises important questions about human identity. Aldworth has been using images from medical science in her work ever since a health scare in 1999 found her looking inside her own head during a brain scan for a suspected haemorrhage. Fortunately she was in the clear, but the experience sent her in a new direction, incorporating brain scans and medical imagery into her art. A three-year artist’s residency at the Institute of
Neuroscience at Newcastle University, where she met clinicians, research scientists, psychiatrists and their patients, enabled her to explore her ideas further and culminated in Reassembling the Self, a series of exhibitions that she curated across the city, including her own work and that of other artists. A selection of the work opens in London this week.
“As an artist, I focus on what it means to be human,” she says. “In that sense, I work a little like a scientist exploring brain conditions and problems that might clarify who we are. Schizophrenia sheds light on all our experiences – it is just at one end of the spectrum of being human.” One series of her lithographs starts with an ear, reflecting the idea of voices, then progresses to reassembled figures with body parts in the wrong places; the work is inspired by the “Evelyn Tables”, remarkable 17th-century depictions of human anatomy in the Hunterian Museum in London. “They were physically dismantled and reassembled body parts, stuck down on boards, built up layer by layer into one finished form,” Aldworth explains. Daily Telegraph 15th September 2014
Hearing voices is a priviledge for clairaudient Stephen Holbrook is one of the UK’s most well-known and respected mediums.Having cottoned on to his talent at a young age, he’s no stranger to hearing voices, and his evenings of “mediumship” are always a huge hit whenever he tours the UK.
“I would be doing someone’s perm or colour, and I would hear, ‘Tell Steph it’s Bob, her uncle, and I passed away a year ago today,’ or something like that! Quite unnerving! My first actual message I passed on was when I was in a supermarket when I was sixteen. I reached over to get a pizza from the freezer, and I touched a lady’s hand by accident. All I heard was, ‘Tell her it’s Michael… I only passed over last month… wish Chloe “Happy Birthday” for next week’. I didn’t really know what to do, but I thought I’d tell her, without wanting to look totally bonkers! She listened and just burst into tears. What was the predominant emotion that you felt upon realising you were able to communicate with those who had passed? It was an overwhelming sense of emotion. I felt privileged that I, among many, had been chosen to do this. When you’re not on stage, are you able to “switch-off” so-to-speak, or are you constantly besieged by messages at all times of day? I can switch off quite easily nowadays, though it did take me nigh on nine years to perfect a technique to do it! Each and every person has their own way, and thank goodness I have, too, as I would be totally bombarded all day. Driffield Today (UK), 11th Sep 2014
Accents, narrators and total silence Do characters speak to you when you read – or are you more affected by the author’s voice? In response to a survey investigating what hearing voices means to writers, we asked readers for their experiences.
Hearing voices is not only common, but it turns out to be a rich and underexplored area of study. For a thought-provoking set of articles on the phenomenon, head to our Inner Voices series, where you’ll find a scientific exploration of talking to ourselves, a survey on how authors find their voices, why hearing voices was central to Dickens’s technique and the different sorts of voice-hearing described by Hilary Mantel and Virginia Woolf, among other pieces.
As important as the voices in writers’ heads are those that are heard by readers. So on a recent open thread, we asked you how you experienced characters when reading – specifically, how you heard their voices (if indeed you did). Your answers were fascinating and amazingly diverse. Here is a selection of your contributions. Here are some of your responses The Guardian (UK) 9th September 2014
Talking to the voices in our heads A promising approach to treating people who hear voices, also known as ‘auditory hallucinations’, is to get the patient or therapist to interact with the speaker. Somebody hears a voice, but nobody is speaking. It seems reasonable to assume that there is something going on in the head of this person that is similar to what is going on in the head of somebody actually hearing someone speak. The challenge is to explain why this is happening in the absence of a speaker. One popular strategy is to explain it in terms of someone’s ordinary “inner speech” somehow becoming “loud”. This will explain why somebody has an auditory, and specifically verbal, experience in the absence of sound waves hitting their eardrum. However, it does not explain why so many cases of voice hearing are perceived to come from another speaker. Perhaps we need to think outside the box. Perhaps we should not focus on sounds and how hearing works, but rather on communication and how that works. The Guardian, (UK) 26th August 2014
How do writers find their voices? Survey of Edinburgh books festival authors reveals that ‘hearing a character’ means different things over course of a writing career. The idea that writers can somehow “hear” the voice of their characters is a familiar one, as is the notion that characters seem to write themselves: that the author is merely a kind of conduit for voices that seem to have lives all of their own. However, describing where that voice comes from, what it sounds like and how it feels to experience a character so intimately is a much more difficult – and more fascinating – matter, as a team of Durham University researchers have been discovering at the Edinburgh international book festival. Contributors to the project have already written a series of blogs on those writers who have been able to talk about it, including Hilary Mantel, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens.
More than 100 authors have now completed our questionnaire about how they experience their characters’ voices, and we’re currently conducting a series of in-depth interviews further exploring how they imagine, hear, listen to and converse with the voices of their characters or subjects. Already our research is uncovering significant and surprising insights into a range of questions: What does inner voice actually “sound” like? What do writers do when they can no longer “tune in” to their inner voice? How do online comments infiltrate the inner voices of journalists? And what is like to hear your characters or subjects out loud? The Guardian, (UK) 25th August 2014
The psychology of comedy: where humour and psychosis overlap New research shows that comedians have a remarkable amount in common with people who have schizophrenia or manic depression – and that this could be what makes them funny. Over the past two years, psychologists at Oxford University have persuaded 523 comedians across the UK, US and Australia to complete an online survey designed to uncover their most defining characteristics, asking questions like, “Do you often feel like doing the opposite of what other people suggest, even though you know they are right?” and, “Do you dread going into a room by yourself where other people have already gathered and are talking?” The results showed that comedians have a remarkable amount in common with people with schizophrenia and manic depression – and that this could be exactly what makes them funny.Byrne describes the comic’s world as a bit of a fantasy land where the oddities of daily life are blown out of proportion in a “cartoon animated” fashion. This enables them to spot and pick apart bizarre aspects that go unnoticed by most of us. “Humour requires the ability to think outside the box or see unusual connections where others don’t,” agrees Victoria Ando of Oxford’s department of experimental psychology, who led the study. “This divergent and over-inclusive way of thinking reflects many of the thought processes and patterns seen in psychosis. But while in psychotic patients these traits are too pathological to allow creativity, in a healthy individual they can contribute towards brilliance and inspiration.” The Guardian, (UK), 19th August 2015
Schizhophrenia can be cured, says psychiatrist Chennai: Around 70 per cent of people affected by schizophrenia, a mental disorder, can be completely cured, but it would take a long time for society to accept such people as being normal. However, Tamil Nadu is far better than other states with more number of rehabilitation centres and psychiatrists even at the district headquarters hospital level, said Dr Mohan Isaac, Prof of Psychiatry, University of Western Australia. Though the exact cause is unknown and research was on to find it, the causes could be categorised as genetic, or any incident that has affected the person’s life, a stressful life or children growing up in unhealthy circumstances such as in a troubled family. He said, around 3–4 per cent per 1,000 population were affected by schizophrenia. The affected number is similar in all places across the country, said Dr Isaac, who served in the department of psychiatry for more than 25 years at the National Insitute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bengaluru, before moving to the University of Western Australia in 2005. He said symptoms start with the person behaving abnormally, hearing voices when no one is nearby, or a perception that someone is harming them. Such behaviour could be identified in late teens. However, parents take them to astrologers, thinking it is an evil spirit ,or take them to temples. And, only after three or four years lapse patients are brought to us, he said. “Treatment takes a long time as it is a slow process,” he said, which is why educating parents and public is very important. Deccan Chronical (India) Monday, 15th December, 2014
Hearing voices allowed Charles Dickens to create extraordinary fictional worlds Dickens understood his astonishing writing practice as the summoning of voices. “Every word said by his characters was distinctly heard by him,” one critic stressed in 1872. Dickens himself considered his novels to come from some autonomous source beyond volition. Hearing voices and inventing character were also indivisible aspects of his creativity.
As he wrote to his friend John Forster: “when I sit down to my book, some beneficent power shows it all to me, and tempts me to be interested, and I don’t invent it – really do not – but see it, and write it down”.The Guardian, (UK) 22nd August 2014
Talking to ourselves: the science of the little voice in your head If we want to understand what’s happening in the brain when people ‘hear voices’, we first need to understand what happens during ordinary inner speech. Why does it matter whether we have an accurate understanding of what’s going on in our brains when we use inner speech? One reason is that understanding typical inner experience may be the key to understanding more unusual inner experiences. For example, psychologists have argued that hearing voices (“auditory verbal hallucinations”) might simply be a form of inner speech that has not been recognised as self-produced (although there are also important competing theories). The Guardian, (UK) 21st August 2014
Lunatics running the asylums? Well, we prefer different language, but why not? As much as we may wish that our mental health services were just about good quality service delivery, in reality they are also always about human rights as well. These two areas of service and rights cannot be untangled. Mental Health Australia, 20th August 2014
Samuel Beckett’s articulation of unceasing inner speech The literal sounds in his characters’ minds express a subtle and revealing understanding of how we all talk to ourselves. The qualities of Beckett’s voices (alien, autonomous, without a recognisable source, and having aggressive or commanding contents) resonate with and sometimes even match the phenomenology of auditory verbal hallucinations (hearing voices in the absence of external stimuli). From psychologist Louis Sass and philospher Gilles Deleuze, who first spoke of a “schizoid voice” in Beckett’s work, to investigators on the recent Beckett and Brain Science project, critics have highlighted correspondences between the distorted perceptions of Beckett’s characters and a wide gamut of psychiatric disorders. Nonetheless, this pathological framework of interpretation can be, if not reversed, at least complemented by non-pathological approaches which draw on contemporary cognitive research. In fact, recent research in cognitive science and other fields has shown that hearing voices is more common than we think, including among people with no psychiatric diagnosis. The restless sound of our inner speech is a key experience of this commonality. The Guardian, (UK) 21st August 2014
Do you hear voices? You are not alone Auditory verbal hallucinations or ‘hearing voices’ is not restricted to people who have a form of psychosis. For many, the voices provide support and guidance or have a spiritual aspect. or a small minority of people, voice-hearing is a regular part of their lives, an everyday experience that isn’t associated with being unwell.
It is only in the past 10 years that we have begun to understand what might be going on in “non-clinical” voice-hearing. Most of what we know comes from a large study conducted by Iris Sommer and colleagues at UMC Utrecht in the Netherlands. In 2006 they launched a nationwide attempt to find people who had heard voices before but didn’t have any sort of psychiatric diagnosis. From an initial response of over 4,000 people, they eventually identified a sample of 103 who heard voices at least once a month, but didn’t have psychosis. Their voice-hearing was also not caused by misuse of drugs or alcohol.The Guardian, (UK) 13th August 2014
Hearing Voices? How Book Characters Become Imaginary Friends Do you hear characters’ voices in your head when reading a book? How vivid are they? Do you have visual or other sensory experiences of characters when reading? Ever stopped to wonder why? A new research project on why some people hear inner voices would like to, er, hear from you. Durham University’s Hearing the Voice project, in association with the Edinburgh International Festival of Books, is investigating why exactly some people hear voices, have imaginary friends, and talk to themselves. The project intends to debunk many myths about “the wrongly stigmatized phenomenon” (in other words: Good news, you’re not crazy). It will include the experiences of both writers and readers, and will focus on “inner monologues, imaginary childhood friends and the demands character voices place on a novelist.” Also taking part in the Edinburgh project is legendary storytelling organization The Moth. 2 Paragraphs August 10th, 2014
Researchers investigate what it means to ‘hear voices’ Hearing the Voice project draws on scientists, writers and readers for survey of ‘wrongly stigmatised phenomenon’ Children will often have imaginary friends, the recently bereaved sometimes hear their loved ones and for some people voices in their head can be a horrible, destabilising ordeal. The full gamut of experiences are to be explored in detail at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, in a project investigating why and how people hear voices when no one is speaking.
Researchers from Durham University’s Hearing the Voice project will be at the festival asking both readers and writers what their experiences are. There will also be interviews, panel discussions and workshops delving into what is still a little-talked-about subject. The project’s director, Charles Fernyhough, said: “It is usually considered a troubling symptom of a severe mental illness but is more and more being recognised as something that happens to a lot of people and there are a lot of different contexts.”
That’s not to say it can be very troubling and destabilising, he added, and that most people would be worried if they started hearing voices. “There’s a terrible stigma about it,” he said. “It is something many people who have the experience feel very uncomfortable talking about because they fear the reaction of society, for good reason.” The Guardian, 9th August 2014
Schizophrenia: Is it the path to true wisdom Author Stuart Campbell on why schizophrenia can be interpreted as a gift rather than a mental illness. The idea that sufferers are likely to be dangerous is a nonsense. Each year in the UK approximately 40 people are killed by someone suffering from mental illness – statistically small in a population of 63 million. People suffering from schizophrenia are much more likely to be a victim of violence or a threat to themselves. The belief that the condition is untreatable is also wrong. One third of people who receive the diagnosis will only ever have a single period of illness and no further symptoms; one third may have episodes interspersed with periods when they are more than capable of living fulfilling lives. For the final third the illness can be severe and enduring – more likely if the situation is compounded by drink or drugs.
But there is something unsatisfactory about schizophrenia diagnosis. Is there a risk that in our urge to fix we end up pathologising human experiences that are difficult to explain? Other cultures place a different value on hearing voices. The voice hearer can be seen as the chosen one, someone with remarkable gifts. This perception in itself must be more conducive to recovery than abuse and innuendo. Despite understanding the psychiatric explanations for the voices he has heard for years my former colleague remains convinced that his voices are external entities who have chosen to live in his head. Yet while his voices at worst can be malicious and abusive, on other occasions they make him laugh and can function as an inner guide. Who am I to say: “Well actually, you are probably suffering from a mesocortical dysfunction?”
We repress superconscious impulses at our perilOver the years he has taught himself coping strategies: choosing to engage with the voices, listening to but not obeying them, and getting to know each individual voice. There is a branch of psychotherapy known as psychosynthesis that holds that we repress superconscious impulses at our peril and that the challenge is to make a bridge to that part of our being where true wisdom is to be found. The symptoms that we categorise as schizophrenia may be part of that process of connecting with an important reality.
I have tried to make sense of this idea in my novel John McPake and the Sea Beggars. John lives in an Edinburgh hostel and hears voices that compete with each other to tell his story. He is obsessed with paintings by Bruegel and suffers from the delusion that he is a 16th century Dutch weaver searching for his son. The key to his ultimate recovery resides in his other ‘psychotic’ world. Perhaps I, too, deserve to be called a nutter but, when all is said and done, I believe that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Stuart Campbell’s novel John McPake and the Sea Beggars (Sandstone Press, £8.99) is out now in paperback. Big Issue (UK), 30th July 2014
Hearing network has the voice of reason To most, schizophrenia is a word with a throng of different connotations. But, from now on, those primary meanings shouldn’t exist. And there’s one simple reason behind it. “It’s a made up word, made over 100 years ago. It’s just used to categorise people when we don’t understand their experience,” Hearing Voices Network training consultant Peter Bullimore said. “I don’t think (schizophrenia) can be prevalent because it doesn’t exist.” Hailing from Sheffield in England, Mr Bullimore has been delivering training focusing on hearing voices and paranoia for more than a decade. Researchers at the University of Sydney are working with the Hearing Voices Network and, debunking a host of schizophrenic myths. Mr Bullimore’s aim is to work with the experience without having to use any anti-psychotic drugs. “I think everybody can hear voices at different stages of their lives, it’s about the severity of it,” he said. “The voices quite often talk about painful events in a life, so it’s difficult to hear them and we try to ignore them. “I’ve heard voices since I was seven years of age. That was from a lot of traumatic experiences in my childhood, but through meeting people through the Hearing Voices Network, I was able to make the relationship between what the voices say and life events,” Central Western Daily (Australia) 31st July 2014
Gamers ‘Hearing Voices Long After Playing’ More than one in 10 people questioned say they have heard noises or voices after sessions playing video games. Hardcore gamers are at risk of hearing “maddening” screams and explosions after periods playing video games, a new study has found. Respondents reported hearing sound effects, music and characters’ voices after playing games.Researchers at Nottingham Trent University compiled responses from more than 1,200 online forum users. Some 12% of those surveyed have experienced hearing noises in their heads after gaming, often without triggers. The research team called the concept “game transfer phenomena”, and said that vehicle noises, lasers, and bullets were among the most common sounds heard. One gamer said they heard a voice whispering “death” repeatedly for days, while the words “go, go, go” repeated in the head of another when he was on crowded public transport. The experiences were described as “scary” and “maddening”. Some gamers also reported experiencing sleep deprivation as a result. One of the team’s researchers, Angelica Ortiz De Gortari, said: “These experiences can sometimes result in illogical thoughts and behaviours. “It’s important to help gamers understand their experiences since re-experiencing sounds and voices may provoke distress, especially when associated with dangerous situations in the game.” Sky News (UK), 30th July 2014
How schizophrenia is shaped by our culture: Americans hear voices as threatening while Indians and Africans claim they are helpful Scientists came to the conclusion after speaking with 60 schizophrenics. 20 came from California, 20 from Accra, Ghana and 20 from Chennai, India. In America, voices were intrusion and a threat to patient’s private world. In India and Africa, the study subjects were not as troubled by the voices. The difference may be down to the fact that Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity. Whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self as interwoven with others and defined through relationships. Daily Mail (UK) 24th July 2014
Hearing disembodied voices as violent or helpful depends on culture, study finds A Stanford study has found that those who hallucinate voices are influenced by the culture they live in, with differences in mood and tone depending upon where in the world they live. Thr study, led by anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University, which has found that the nature of aural hallucinations change relative to the local culture of the person experiencing them. Americans who hear disembodied voices are more likely to report them as violent, or “bombardment”; Indian and Ghanian participants more often reported the voices they heard were “playful” or even “entertaining”. All of the participants in the study had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, with 20 each from San Mateo in California, Accra in Ghana and Chennai in India. All participants, from all three locations, reported both positive and negative experiences with hallucinated voice – yet while the Ghanaians and Indians reported predominantly positive experiences, the Americans all said their experiences were mostly negative. Crucially, too, Americans perceived their hallucinations as symptomatic of a deeper disease, whether innate or because of a traumatic experience – while 11 of the Indian participants described their voices as deceased relatives giving advice or commands, and 16 of the Ghanaians reported hearing the voice of God.
The voices were treated as a “magic”, “playful” or “entertaining” more often than not, and only some participants saw them as manifestations of a mental illness; the Americans, in contrast, heard voices describing violent imagery, “torturing people” or a “bombardment”, an “assault”, or even a “call to war”. “[The] harsh, violent voices so common in the West may not be an inevitable feature of schizophrenia,” Luhrmann said in a statement. The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, It gives extra weight to criticisms of mental illness which don’t take account of external, social factors – and to the influence of a model of mental health on the manifestation of an illness. Luhrmann said: “The difference seems to be that the Chennai and Accra participants were more comfortable interpreting their voices as relationships and not as the sign of a violated mind.” As the interpretations didn’t seem to correlate with either religious belief or urbanisation, she suspects the underlying cause for this is that Americans were less community-minded than the others. This is speculation, and requires further investigation, but it does point the way to new possibilities in treating schizophrenia and disembodied voices, with the possibility that “befriending” them could lessen their impact. New Statesman (UK), 23rd July 2014
When Hearing Voices Is a Good Thing A new study suggests that schizophrenic people in more collectivist societies sometimes think their auditory hallucinations are helpful. Doctors “sometimes treat the voices heard by people with psychosis as if they are the uninteresting neurological byproducts of disease which should be ignored,”
Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann says. “Our work found that people with serious psychotic disorders in different cultures have different voice-hearing experiences. That suggests that the way people pay attention to their voices alters what they hear their voices say.” The Atlantic (USA), 23rd July, 2014
Talking it over: how the response to hearing voices is changing Sixteen years ago, when he was at university, Gavin Webster began to hear voices. At first, he says, they were “demonic”, but then other voices started to build him up and tell him what a fine chap he was. In all, the Dundee man says, he has had to cope with around 10 voices of varying tone, none of them welcome. “The demonic voices were telling me to kill myself. Voice hearers are far more likely to hurt themselves than other people and the percentage of voices hearers that are violent is much less that the percentage of the general population that is violent,” he says. “And then there were ‘nice’ voices, trying to boost my ego. Now I’ve got a faith, and that’s important to me, and all these voices were doing were giving me delusions of grandeur. I chose to ignore all the voices – that was my decision.”
Gavin, now 46, and chair of the Dundee Hearing Voices Network, tried to get medical help. “I went to services, but they just offered me pills. So my mum [Pat Webster] set up the network, so that we could help each other. “I don’t hear the voices any more – I’ve recovered. So that’s my message – that there’s hope for recovery.”
In 2014, the hearing voices landscape is very different to how it looked when Gavin first tried – and failed – to get appropriate support. Today, most big cities (and some smaller areas) will have their own hearing voices network, some voluntary, some associated with statutory services.
But although tremendous progress has been made in the last two decades, many campaigners believe there is still a long way to go. “There’s a fine balance,” says Wendy McAuslan, development co-ordinator with VOX (Voices Of eXperience), a national mental health user-led organisation. On the one hand, she says, it’s important to recognise that people’s experiences of voices can be different, and can change over time – some may hate the voices and find them debilitating and traumatic; others may welcome them, or find them a comfort. “What’s really important is listening to people, understanding how they feel. It’s not just about clinical symptoms; it’s about people’s emotional experience.”
So what are the hard facts about hearing voices? It’s difficult to say. The International Hearing Voices Network suggests that between four and 10 per cent of us hear voices, and that between 70 and 90 per cent of these do so after experiencing a traumatic event. The organisation quotes studies suggesting that while one in three people who hear voices become psychiatric patients, two in three don’t. Scottish Recovery Network, 22nd July 2014
Voice-hearing Experiences Differ Across Cultures People’s voice-hearing experiences are shaped differently by their respective cultures, according to a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry. People’s voice-hearing experiences are shaped differently by their respective cultures, according to a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Stanford University anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann led the analysis of interviews with 60 culturally-diverse people who’d been diagnosed with serious psychotic disorders. “The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition,” stated a Stanford press release about the study. “The Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma.” Mad In America (USA), 21st July 2014
Young people explain psychosis on film In a new YouTube video by 25-year-old filmmaker John Richardson, he and two other young people recount their personal stories of psychosis and the help they received from a mental health service for young people where they live in Sussex.
We then see a young man, Dominic, who believed he was Jesus and later a young woman, Jo, who talks about the troubling agreement she made with her hallucination. She says: “We made a deal that he could be with me when I killed my friends and family.” She believed at the time that carrying out this act would save the people she loved from an even worse fate.
The film explains the kind of help and understanding they received from the early intervention service, a team dedicated to helping young people. Richardson says he made the film Simon Says: Psychosis because it’s the one he would have wanted to have seen when he became ill. Instead, he says he spent two years jumping out of windows and hiding to avoid discussing his mental health with the team. BBC News (UK) 12th July 2014
It Gets Better! Bertel Rüdinger, voice hearer, pharmacist and hearing voices movement member from Copenhagen, Denmark recounts his recovery journey. “… I became part of the Hearing Voices Network in Denmark. I learned of their approach in dealing with the voices. I created a homepage for the Hearing Voices Network in Denmark and in October 2009 I attended the first International Hearing Voices Conference in Maastricht. I suddenly realized just how emotionally numb the drugs had made me as I heard Jacqui Dillon telling her story and saw how it affected the people around me, while I was more focused on getting my next shot of caffeine.
When I got back from Maastricht I started the process of tapering off my medication. I also came back with a clear understanding that as a pharmacist with personal experience of about 40% of the psychiatric medications used in Denmark, I could play a valuable role in helping people who felt handicapped by their psychiatric medication.” Mad in America (USA), 3rd July 2014
Hearing Voices, Sharing Stories This guest post is by Charlotte Conway. Charlotte’s research interests are the uses of personal narratives and recovery stories within the Hearing Voices Movement. Story Telling Sheffield, 1st July 2014
The Voices Within: On the voices in our heads Voice-hearing gets a bad press—literally. Attitudes to specific unusual experiences such as voice-hearing have not received much attention. However, a recently published study set out to investigate media reports of the experience. The results were sobering. 84% of the articles contained no suggestion that voice-hearing can be ‘normal’. That positive view was contained in only 23 of the 181 articles, five of which were a review of Oliver Sacks’s book Hallucinations, which has a clear anti-stigma message. Another ten of these more positive articles put voice-hearing in religious or spiritual context, for example considering the case of Joan of Arc. Most of the articles (81.8%) connected voice-hearing to mental illness. In some cases, auditory verbal hallucinations were simply equated with insanity. Psychology Today (UK), 8th June 2014
Schizophrenics Hear Voices Because Of A Genetic Defect That Causes Their Auditory Center To Malfunction Hallucinations and delusions are common among schizophrenics, but now a new body of research reveals those who hear voices are susceptible because of a genetic malfunction. Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Hospital have discovered the reason behind hallucinating and hearing voices, a common symptom of schizophrenia patients. The study, which was published in the journal Science reveals, for the first time, how a specific circuit in the brain has been linked to hallucinations and delusions, which also explains why the drugs prescribed to treat schizophrenia work so well.
“We think that reducing the flow of information between these two brain structures that play a central role in processing auditory information, sets the stage for stress or other factors to come along and trigger the ‘voices’ that are the most common psychotic symptom of schizophrenia,” said Dr. Stanislav Zakharenko, the study’s co-author and associate member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology, in a press release. Medical Daily (UK) June 8th 2014
From shouts to whispers hearing voices is not uncommonHearing voices was much more commonly associated with depression, behaviour or anxiety disorders. For some, it happens once in a lifetime; for others it’s five times a day. For some, it’s a whisper; for others, it’s a shout or the excited babble of a crowd of football fans. The number of children and young people who hear voices is higher than we might imagine.
Dr Ian Kelleher of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), who also works at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, led research on a 2012-published study, which found that more than one-fifth of 11- to 13-year-olds in Ireland had auditory hallucinations. Dr Kelleher refers to other studies that found 17% of children aged nine to 13 heard voices, whereas by age 13 to 18 only 7.5% did. “It’s much more common than we thought, especially in young children and pre-teens but it decreases in the course of development.”
Auditory hallucinations can range from isolated sentences heard occasionally to minutes-long conversations between two and more people. People can hear screaming and shouting or whispers and murmurs. “It can be a blip, especially with a young child. Why it happens isn’t entirely clear,” says Dr Kelleher, who believes it may be related to brain maturation.“As the brain’s developing, you can get crossed wires. Coming up to the teens, brain connections are being fine-tuned. We call it synaptic pruning. This fine tuning can lead to miscommunication. In stressful periods, it may come to the fore in people with an underlying vulnerability.”
Pre-teen voice-hearing is likely to be “benign, transient and to resolve itself”, says Dr Kelleher. But a North Dublin-based study of 13 to 16-year-olds found 80% presenting with auditory hallucination had at least one psychiatric disorder – not necessarily psychosis.“In the study, psychosis was very uncommon. Hearing voices was much more commonly associated with depression, behaviour or anxiety disorders. When the underlying cause was treated, the voices resolved,”
Rachel Waddingham is project manager with Voice Collective at Mind in Camden, a London-wide initiative supporting young people who hear voices or have visions. She was in Ireland recently training youth mental health workers to set up peer support groups for voice-hearing teens. Waddingham began seeing visions at age seven — monsters in the mirror. By age 14, she was seeing aliens and at university realised she was hearing voices other people couldn’t.
“I spent a few years in hospital and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’m a cautionary tale for what can happen if young people can’t open up.”
She turned a major corner in her early 20s when she was introduced to voice-hearing support groups, where she saw others “finding ways to deal with their voices” and realised she was “a human being worthy of being heard”.
Today, Waddingham, 36, continues to hear 13 different voices. “I’m no longer diagnosed with schizophrenia. I don’t take medication. I work full-time. I’m married. I have three cats. I travel the world and love my work. I think I’m pretty successful!” Irish Examiner (Ireland) 25th May 2014
Cases of children and teenagers hearing voices ‘quite common’ Teams from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are being trained on how to deal with children and young people claiming they are hearing voices. A public talk taking place today in University College Cork will be told the issue of young people hearing voices is often not indicative of a mental health issue. Rachel Waddingham of London-based organisation Mind In Camden is the key speaker at the event and she said scenarios in which children and teenagers say they are hearing voices are quite common and not always cause for alarm. Instead, she said, in many cases, the phenomenon was simply linked to stress, and that once that is addressed, the problem can disappear. “A lot of people hearing voices will not have a mental health problem,” Ms Waddingham said, adding that, in other cases, there may be an underlying issue. Irish Examiner (Ireland) Monday, 14th April, 2014
Reduce the stigma to help children who hear voices “I HAVE CO-EXISTED with my voices for as many years as my memory can recall,” says Eoin, a 19-year-old teenager who hears voices and has learned to live with the trait.
He is not on his own.
Research has shown that hearing voices is a relatively common experience among children and young people. Although it is often perceived to be a sign of severe mental illness, this is not always the case.
It affects about 20 per cent of 11 to 13 year olds. That percentage is reduced to 7 per cent in older teens.
Eoin explains that in his situation it started off mainly as a mixture of “positive, but occasionally bothersome, experiences”.
“I was comfortable with our coexistence for many years, until when I was 14, when the voices really turned up the heat and the volume. I gradually descended into a set of beliefs surrounding myself, as my voices became increasingly angry and violent. One of them vanished, and in the vacuum the other began speaking twice as much.”
The experience will be discussed tonight at a public lecture in UCC with Rachel Waddingham, a voice hearer and an expert on the issue.
She will share her own experience and look at the ways she works with younger people at her project, Voice Collective.
The London-based initiative is a peer-support group for children and young people who hear voices.
Eoin says being able to get in touch with the group helped him.
“I hopped in and out of hospital like it was going out of fashion, and received a diagnosis which I didn’t really agree with,” he explains. “I’ve began to develop a working relationship with my voice, and tried to understand her and what drives her. The Journal (Ireland), 14th April 2014
Hearing voices is normal! Mental health campaigner speaks at Abertay Voice hearer Jacqui Dillon will speak to mental health practitioners from across Tayside at Abertay University today (March 21). A respected campaigner, writer, academic, and international speaker, Jacqui specialises in voice hearing, dissociation, trauma and abuse – among other things – and has worked within mental health services for more than 15 years. Traditionally described within psychiatry as ‘auditory hallucinations’, voice hearing has usually been viewed as a symptom of schizophrenia or psychosis. However, there are conflicting theories amongst professionals and researchers within the field of mental health about what causes voice hearing, and more evidence is emerging which suggests that many people who hear voices do so following traumatic or stressful experiences. This has led to a shift in focus from asking solely what is wrong with someone, to asking instead what has happened to them. By using this approach, mental health practitioners can better understand what their clients are going through and can help them make sense of, and cope with, their experiences, so that they can live meaningful and fulfilling lives. This is a shift that is reflected in the changes that are taking place within mental health services more generally. Abertay University (UK), 21st March 2014
Most helpful thing this voice-hearer heard: ‘The voices are real’ Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor share their strong belief that people who hear voices can learn to understand and control those voices — rather than be pathologized, medicated or institutionalized because of them.
Ron Coleman and his wife, Karen Taylor, were joyfully anticipating the birth of their first child when a colleague in psychiatry posed a jolting question: “Why are you bringing another schizophrenic into the world?”
It was a galvanizing and politicizing moment for the couple, who immediately took to the airwaves to defend their marriage, their mission, and their strong belief that people who hear voices can learn to understand and control those voices — rather than be pathologized, medicated or institutionalized because of them. Minn Post (USA), 18th March 2014
Kids’ Night Terrors Linked to Delusions Later in Life Children who suffer from frequent night terrors and nightmares are more likely to experience hallucinations and delusions later on in life, new research suggests. Children in the study who had more frequent night terrors and nightmares between ages 2 and 9, as reported by their moms, were more likely to report psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and hearing voices, at age 12, according to the researchers. The researchers also found that children who were still having frequent night terrors or nightmares at age 12 were about three times more likely to also exhibit psychotic symptoms than kids who didn’t experience these nighttime episodes.
Overall, about 5.7 percent of children experienced psychotic symptoms at age 12, though many did not go on to be diagnosed with a full psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia in adulthood. Live Science (UK), 3rd March, 2014
Imaginary friends go mainstream – more children have them than ever Eleanor Tucker is fascinated by evidence that children’s imaginary playmates are more widespread than ever. Especially as she used to have one herself. The Guardian (UK), 28th February 2014
Schizophrenia: Talking therapies moderately effective Cognitive behavioural therapy is an officially recommended treatment, but is available to less than 10% of patients in the UK with schizophrenia. A study published in the Lancet indicates CBT could help the many who refuse antipsychotic medication. Experts say larger trials are needed. About four-in-10 patients benefit from taking antipsychotic medication. But the drugs do not work for the majority and they cause side-effects such as type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Up to half of patients with schizophrenia end up not taking the drugs. The study looked at cognitive behaviour therapy in 74 people. The therapy works by identifying an individual patient’s problem – such as hearing voices, paranoid thinking or no longer going out of the house – and developing techniques to deal with them. Prof Tony Morrison, director of the psychosis research unit at Greater Manchester West Mental Health Foundation Trust, said: “We found cognitive behavioural therapy did reduce symptoms and it also improved personal and social function and we demonstrated very comprehensively it is a safe and acceptable therapy.” CBT had a moderate effect which was roughly similar to the effect size of antipsychotics – although a head-to-head study directly comparing the two therapies have not been made. Douglas Turkington, professor of psychiatry at Newcastle University, said: “One of our most interesting findings was that when given the option, most patients were agreeable to trying cognitive therapy.” BBC News (UK) 6th February 2014
Auditory Hallucinations: More Common Than You May Think Auditory hallucinations – hearing sounds or voices that appear to come from within the mind – have been to focus of inquiry for centuries. While auditory hallucinations may represent symptoms of a significant mental illness, they also occur for reasons not suggestive of a mental illness. WABI TV (USA) 5th February 2014
‘I finally got to thank the man who saved my life’ After his “Find Mike” campaign, Jonny Benjamin is reunited with the man who talked him down off Waterloo Bridge six years ago. Benjamin is now an engaging and animated young man who works as a charity campaigner. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that he lives with a chronic schizoaffective disorder, which means he is prone to deep depressions and paranoia. “I am in a good place,” Benjamin says. “I am able now to talk about this. It’s a massive issue: 16 people every day take their own lives. Suicide is the biggest killer among young men.”
His own troubles leading up to his suicide attempt were acute. He grew up in a middle-class Jewish household and had done well at school. But from the age of 11 he started hearing voices in his head, which became progressively sinister. Added to this, he genuinely believed – after watching The Truman Show – that he was being filmed and monitored every minute of the day by hidden cameras.
Too ashamed to admit to the voices in his head, he was never properly diagnosed until he was 20.
Today, a mixture of medication, physical exercise, cognitive therapy exercises and mindfulness – a technique focusing on living in the present – helps him keep on top of his condition, he says. “There are thousands of people going to work every day, having functioning lives, with schizophrenia. You can have a normal life.” Daily Telegraph (UK), 30th January 2014
Is It Possible To Live With The Voices In Your Head? Eleanor Longden spent many years in the psychiatric system before earning a BSc and an MSc in psychology at the University of Leeds. She argues that schizophrenia is a “creative and ingenious survival strategy” that should be seen “as [a] complex, significant, and meaningful experience to be explored.” Longden is studying for her PhD and lectures and writes about recovery-oriented approaches to psychosis, dissociation and complex trauma. Valley Public Radio, 7th January 2014
What is it like to hear voices in your head Traditionally, when a person says they can hear voices that don’t exist in external reality, psychiatry has treated this as a sign of mental illness. However, it’s become clear in recent years that many people hear hallucinated voices without it causing them distress. To improve our understanding of how voice-hearing becomes problematic it’s clear we need to understand more about the different ways that people experience hearing voices. British Psychological Society, 6th January 2014