How to cope with hearing voices

About voices, who hears them and how to cope if they are a problem.

Your stories

Hearing voices

Posted on 09/01/2013

Hearing voices with bipolar disorder

Katie, who has bipolar disorder, describes her experience of hearing voices when she is manic or depressed.

Posted on 16/12/2014

He/ She/ They/ It

In the first part of Lilith's blog, they share their experience of gender identity and hearing voices.

Posted on 20/07/2015

What are voices?

We might say someone is ‘hearing voices’ if you hear a voice when no-one is present with you, or which other people with you cannot hear.

People have many different experiences of hearing voices. Some people don't mind their voices while others find them frightening and distracting.

It's common to think that if you hear voices you must have a mental health problem.

But research shows that lots of people hear voices and most of them are not mentally unwell.

It’s a common human experience.

Some people also see things that others can’t see. Others have touch, smell or taste sensations which they can’t explain in everyday ways.

These experiences are called hallucinations.

This does not make it abnormal – it’s just a word for a perception you may have that is not shared by those around you.

I hear hundreds of voices. Partly relatives, friends and people in the media.

What kind of voices do people hear?

There are lots of different ways we all hear voices. You might:

  • hear your name called when there is no one with you
  • hear or see things as you are falling asleep
  • experience the voices as being in your head
  • feel voices are coming from outside and heard through your ears like other sounds
  • feel as if you are hearing other people’s thoughts or as if other people can hear your thoughts
  • experience nasty or threatening voices that tell you to do dangerous and unacceptable things or try to control you
  • hear a voice that feels friendly but encourages you to do things that might not be good for you
  • hear a kind supportive voice or a voice that helps you
  • hear more than one voice and they may talk or argue with each other

I remember hearing this malicious whispering which I assumed was coming from other passengers on the was like being able to hear people's thoughts and in my paranoid state these were always malevolent and critical.

Hearing voices with bipolar disorder

Read Katie's blog about her experience of hearing voices when she is manic or depressed.


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Why do I hear voices?

There are lots of reasons why you might hear voices. Here are some of them:

  • Voices as you fall asleep or wake up - these are to do with your brain being partly in a dreaming state. The voice might call your name or say something brief. You might also see strange things or misinterpret things you can see. These experiences usually stop as soon as you are fully awake.
  • Lack of sleep - this can cause you to hear voices or have other sensory experiences that you can't explain in everyday ways.
  • Hunger - you may hear voices if you are very hungry or if you haven't eaten much recently.
  • Physical illness - if you have a high temperature and are delirious you may hear voices or see and say strange things.
  • Drugs - you may hear or see things after taking street drugs or as a side effect of some prescribed drugs. You might also have these experiences when you are coming off drugs.
  • Bereavement - if you have recently lost someone very close you may hear them talking to you or feel that they are with you. This experience is very common and some people find it comforting.
  • Abuse or bullying - you may hear the voice of the person who abused you being unkind or threatening or ordering you to harm yourself or do things that you know are wrong. This is especially so if you experienced the abuse in childhood when you had not learned the coping skills you needed to protect yourself.
  • Other traumatic experiences - you may hear voices as a result of other traumas. You may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Hearing several different voices may be associated with traumatic experiences and with dissociative disorders.
  • Spiritual experiences - some people hear a voice as part of a spiritual experience. This may be a very special experience and one that you feel helps you make sense of your life. Or you may feel as though you are hearing the voice of an evil spirit.
  • Mental health problems - you may hear voices if you experience psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression.

I started hearing voices when I was 16. It resulted from a traumatic event in my life that led to weeks of a manic period.

Watch Juno talk about his experience of hearing voices

This information was published in May 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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