1, Information for Young People
2, Information for Parents
- Don’t Panic if your Child says “I Hear Voices”
- It’s not the end of the world
- Why have we written this information leaflet?
- How do most parents react when their child talks about hearing voices?
- Normal” children and adults hear voices
- Hearing voices and traumatic experiences
- Voices as messengers
- For many children voices disappear over time
- The voices may stay but children can cope with them
- Supporting your child
3. More information
4. More Resources
1. Information for Young People
Voice Collective, a London-wide project supporting children and young people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual perceptions, have made an animation to challenge stigma. Watch this clip below:
The animation, created by young people (aged 13-18) who hear voices, is clear, honest and inspirational. Voice Collective have made it to reach out to young people who a) have experiences like these but are afraid to tell anyone and b) young people without these experiences so that they are able to support their friends better.
A central theme is that when someone returns to school after breaking their arm people gather round them wanting to sign the cast. However, some young people who hear voices feel that their friends stay away from them and think they’re a freak. The animation asks the simple question – what’s the difference?
Another young person featured in the animation explains how this helped her revaluate who her real friends were. It gives examples of the kinds of things that these young people would like others to say/do to help.
We hope you like this animation as much as we do. Please feel free to share the link with anyone you think may be interested.
What are voices & visions?
When we’re talking about voices and visions, we’re talking about people seeing, hearing or sensing things that other people around them don’t. Some people have experiences which comfort, inspire or make them laugh. Others have ones that are more frightening and confusing. Many have a bit of both.
How common is it?
Most people think that hearing voices and seeing visions is pretty unusual. Ask around, though. Have you ever heard your mobile ring (or felt it vibrate) when no-one was calling? Have you ever heard someone call your name when no-one’s there? 7 out of 10 people have.
Ok, so this doesn’t mean they’re hearing/seeing things every day – but it’s in the same ballpark.
Researchers from south London (Laurens et al, 2007) found that around 30% of 9-12 year olds experienced hearing voices and just under 30% had seen a vision. Researchers from Ireland found that about 1 in 5 11-13 year olds had heard voices, whereas only 7% of older teens said that this happened to them.
Research varies, but around 8% of young people hear or see things regularly – so, if you’re one of those people … you’re not alone.
All kinds of people have these experiences (even famous people!). For the majority, it’s not a problem (in fact in some cultures it’s seen as a gift!). Still, 1 in 3 people feel overwhelmed by it and need extra support from the mental health services.
In our experience, even those who feel really frightened by the things they see and hear can learn ways of dealing with it. See our ‘coping and recovery‘ section for more info on this.
If you would like to download/read our booklets for parents and family members, click on the images below:
Booklet No. 1: Voices & Visions, a straight talking introduction
Booklet No. 2: Voices & Visions, a guide to coping and recovery
2. Information for Parents
Don’t Panic if your Child says “I Hear Voices”
Research shows that around 8% of children and young people hear voices that others don’t. So, if you – or your child – is one of them, you’re not alone and it is not schizoaffective disorder.
If you child says “I hear voices in my head” then most of us would be fear the worst. In the Harry Potter series there is a famous quotation “ Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.” This is a commonly held belief in society, especially as hearing voices is most often related to mental health issues such as schizoaffective disorders and schzophrenia.
In this section we’ve included information and a range of information, resources, coping strategies and experiences aimed at young people, their families and anyone else who support them.
It’s not the end of the world
Our information for parents and carers intended to help you to develop new and more empowering ways of thinking about your child’s experiences and to help you find ways to assist your child.
Written by Dr. Sandra Escher is from the Netherlands, an expert on the issue of children who hear voices, shed has spent the last fifteen years talking to children who hear voices and to their parents and carers. Sandra has carried out the most detailed and thorough research into the phenomenon in the world to date. In this article she offers a new perspective on what the voices may represent and how you can help your child cope if they are hearing voices.
Why have we written this information leaflet?
We have written this information leaflet for parents and carers in the hope that it will enable you to develop a new and more empowering way of thinking about the your child’s experiences and that it will help you in finding ways to assist your child in their emotional development and recovery from hearing overwhelming voices rather than considering it as schizoaffective disorder.
Unfortunately, there is very little practical advice available about children who hear voices that addresses your needs as parents and family members, this is a shame because you are the most important form of support to your child. So, we wanted you to know that there are some simple common sense things that you can do to help your child. We hope you will find the information helpful.
First things first, From the research that we have carried out into the experience of adults and children who hear voices it has became apparent that:
- To hear voices is in itself is a normal though unusual experience
- However, it is possible that you can become ill as a result of hearing voices when you cannot cope with them
- For most children (60%) the voices will disappear over time as the child develops and as they learn to cope with the life’s problems (and the emotions and feelings involved with these problems) that led to the voices starting in the first place
How do most parents react when their child talks about hearing voices?
When you find out that your child hears voices it can be devastating. Some parents have said it “felt like my whole world had collapsed.” This reaction is understandable, for as parents we are naturally very protective of our children and do not want to see them distressed, hurt or confused. However, there is a crucial question that needs to be asked about why we react in this way when we discover a child is hearing voices.
Our reactions are based on information we have picked up about the meaning of hearing voices. Mostly these are based on assumptions held by society, especially the widely held belief that to hear voices is the same as the mental illness “schizophrenia” or “schizoaffective disorder”.
The good news is that this belief is not correct. Whilst it is the case that hearing voices is apparent in about 60% of the persons who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is not the other way around! If you hear voices that does not mean you have schizophrenia.
There is an even more important issue that you may not be aware of: hearing voices in itself is normal – but – it is possible to become ill from hearing voices if you cannot cope with them. This means that it is coping with hearing voices that is the problem and not the voices in themselves.
Normal” children and adults hear voices
This little known fact is based on a lot of research. Several large scale population (epidemiological) studies have shown that about 4 % of the population hears voices. Of these 4% of the people who hear voices about 30% seek assistance from mental health services. Amongst children however, even more of the “normal” population hears voices (8%) and as with adults about 30% are referred to mental health services considering it as schizoaffective disorder.
What this means is that there are apparently many more people who hear voices who do not require the support of mental health services then those that do. This is because they can cope with the voices and function well in in their everyday lives.
Unfortunately, most of the information that we have about the experience of hearing voices comes exclusively from research with patients; people who obviously cannot cope with the voices and needed help. These are people who feel that the voices made them feel powerless and who were overwhelmed by them. This is the case for research for adults and children who are hearing voices. However, in other articles on this site you can find out more about people who can cope with their voices or even have positive experiences.
Hearing voices and traumatic experiences
In our research we found that a common theme in both groups (adults and children) is the high percentage of traumatic experiences that have been found to have been the trigger for hearing voices. In adults around 75% began to hear voices in relationship to a trauma or situation that made them feel powerless.
Examples of the kinds of traumas that trigger voices include the death of a loved one, divorce, losing a job, failing an exam, but also longer lasting situations like being physically, emotionally or sexually abused. With children the percentage was even higher at 85%, with some traumas specifically related to childhood. These traumas might include being bullied by peers or teachers, or being unable to perform at a certain level at school, another commonly reported traumatic incident related to hearing voices is being admitted to a hospital for long periods because of a physical illness.
I would say that hearing voices is mostly a reaction to a situation or a problem the child or young person cannot cope with.
It is a signal.
Voices as messengers
Another striking finding is that what the voices say often gives an indication of the problem that the child has.
The voices told an 8-year-old boy to blind himself. This frightened his mother. But when we discussed whether there was something in the life of the boy he could not face, she understood the voices message. The boy could not cope with the problematic marriage of his parents. He did not want to see it.
What we saw in our research is that if attention was given to the problems the child was facing, they will be able to establish a more constructive kind of relationship with the voices. As a result children become less afraid of their voices. When a child is able to consider the problems that are at the root of their distress and with the emotions and feelings involved, the voices stop being the child’s only focus of attention.
For many children voices disappear over time
Recently I conducted a 3-year follow up study on 80 children who heard voices who were aged between 8 and 19 years of age. Half of this group of children were receiving mental health care because of their voices, however, the other half were not in care at all. I interviewed the children 4 times at yearly intervals. At the end of the research period 60% of the children I interviewed reported that the voices had disappeared.
Of course figures and statistics like this do not directly relate to you. But the overall message is that the chance that the voice might disappear is quite high.
We saw that the children’s problems often stopped their development through the voice experience. However, if the problems were handled or their situation changed; for example because the child changed schools, the voices disappeared.
The voices may stay but children can cope with them
It is important that we appreciate that the the desire to make the voices disappear is a goal of the mental health care services and not necessarily that of the children themselves. There are some children who did not want to lose their voices. This is OK, for the most important thing is that the voices no longer remain at the centre of their attention. This is because as the relationship with the voices changed and became more positive, instead of hindering the child the voices start to take on an advisory role. If children find within themselves the resources to cope with their voices and the emotions involved with hearing them then they can lead happy and balanced lives.
Supporting your child
The most important element in the process of positively changing your child’s relationship with their voice is the support they got from the family. Unfortunately, our research has shown that being in the mental health care system had no positive effect on the voices, although we did find that being referred to a psychotherapist who accepted the reality of the voices and were prepared to discuss their meaning with the child did have a positive influence on how the child coped with their voices.
We also saw that “normalising” the experience can help parents to deal with the voices – try not to think of it as a terrible disaster, but as a signal for something that is troubling your child and that can be resolved. On the other hand, if parents cannot accept that voice hearing in itself is normal, but believe the voices to be an illness and are afraid of the voices, then the child naturally picks up this feeling. Imagine for a moment if you were the child and were afraid of the voices and when you looked for support from your Mum and Dad you found that they were even even more afraid of the voices then you were. This would obviously put you under great pressure and probably mean that you would become reluctant about talking about your experiences at all.
There is a second problem,at if you are afraid of the voices then you can become obsessed with the fear of the voices alone and not what the voices mean. When you are distressed and anxious you cannot listen very well to the story your child tells about their experiences and may fail to pick up on the related problems and emotions that the voices represent.
In our experience what helps children the most is a systematic approach to understanding the voices. So to help we have developed an interview to help map the experience. This can be used as a way to understand the stress the child is under and then to work together to find solutions for the problems raised by the voice hearing experience.
3. More information
This information is just a brief introduction to a new way of thinking about young people who hear voices that might help you to face the problems you have.
If you want more information about the research, about the elements of the therapy that helped the young people or you want a copy of the interview form we used to in this research to help you with your child please let us know.
Maastricht Interview for Children
The Maastricht Interview for Children and Adolescents who Hear Voices was developed by Dr Sandra Escher and Professor Marius Romme. It has proved to be useful in getting a fuller picture of children’s voice-hearing experiences.
Download your copy here: Maastricht Interview for children
Drs. Sarah Parry and Filippo Varese from The Young Voices Study, based in Manchester, England have written a leaflet providing advice for parents from parents
Over recent months, they have been hearing from young people who hear voices and their parents/guardians. Hearing voices is by no means unusual during childhood and an experience that some young people find helpful and comforting in times of stress and difficulty. As well as talking to young people, we have heard from parents from the UK, Norway and Australia about their experiences of supporting their children, seeking help from health services and how they have come to make sense of the voices their children hear. Although the study is still in the early stages, the responses they have had from their online parent survey have been incredibly helpful and full of useful recommendations and insights. Further information about our study can be found though Twitter, Facebook and on our online surveys for parents and young people who hear voices. (September 2017)
Go here to read the full leaflet.
Tips for dealing With Scary Voices
If the voices you hear frighten you, you’re not alone. Voice Collective have put together six tips that others have found helpful to deal with scary voices. At the end, why not list you’re own ideas too? The more tools you have in your toolbox, the easier you’ll find it to cope when things get tough.
See the information sheet here
4. More Resources
Voice Collective is Mind in Camden’s London-wide project to support young people who hear, see or sense things that others don’t.
A number of Voice Collective’s staff and volunteers have personal experience of living with voices, voices and other unusual perceptions. They are a small team, and work in partnership with people and organisations across Greater London. However, they are also happy to provide information and support to people across the world, via email and/or skype.
Information about Voice Collective in pdf form here Voice Collective Info Sheet
Young People Hearing Voices: What you need to know and what you can do
ISBN 978 1 906254 57 5 (2012)
Young People Hearing Voices is a unique, innovative book providing support and practical solutions for the experience of hearing voices. It is in two parts, one part for voice-hearing children, the other part for parents and adult carers. Sandra Escher and Marius Romme have over twenty-five years’ experience of working with voice-hearers, pioneering the theory and practice of accepting and working with the meaning in voices.
The children’s section: This book has mainly been written for children who hear voices. The information in this book is largely derived from a three-year study amongst 80 children and adolescents who were interviewed about their experiences; children who ranged in age from 8 to 19 years at first contact. Little is known about voice hearing in children. Most people still have this notion that it is a disease for life. In this book, readers will find extensive information about how to look differently at voice hearing; learning to deal with it and discovering what might help to cope with the voices.
The parents’/adults’ section: It became increasingly clear to us how little information parents of children hearing voices were getting and that if parents found information, it was almost always based on the assumption that voice hearing was a serious disease. We noticed that the children of those parents who dared to search and go their own way were doing better.
This is an article from the Young Voices Study. ” (Click on title to read full article)
“Compared to adult voice-hearers, relatively little research or analysis has been carried out with young people who hear voices. Consequently, we don’t really know much about how young people make sense of these experiences or how they might look for help. This is one of the main reasons why the Young Voices Study. has been established. Over recent months, they have been working with young people and their families to explore their views on what it’s actually like to hear voices in childhood and how parents can support their children through the experiences.”
Somewhere between “a great friend”, “scary” and “hard to explain”: Learning from young people and parents about hearing voices
(Click on title to read full article) Authored by clinical psychologists and researchers Dr Sarah Parry and Dr Filippo Varese and research assistant Rachel Djabaeva.
“… children tend not tell their parents/caregivers that they are hearing voices, or if they do, it is not straight away. Parents often find out much later, when they notice changes in their child’s behaviour, such as having “conversations with ‘no-one’”, limiting communication with their parents, or showing unusual signs of distress and fear, which can ultimately result in the young person becoming increasingly isolated.”
(Click on title to read full article)
The Young Voices Study – Advice for parents from parents.