Explains what it's like to hear voices, where to go for help if you need it, and what others can do to support someone who is struggling with hearing voices.
What are voices?
'Hearing voices' means hearing a voice (or many different voices) when no one is present with you, or voices that other people with you can't hear.
People have many different experiences of hearing voices. You might not mind your voices, or even find them comforting and helpful. You might find them irritating or distracting. Or they might feel frightening and intrusive.
Your feelings about your voices may be different at different times. This could depend on how you're feeling, what's going on in your life or what types of voices you hear.
It's common to think that if you hear voices, you must have a mental health problem. But research shows that many people hear voices and don't have a mental health problem. It's quite a common human experience.
I hear hundreds of voices... relatives, friends and people in the media.
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 might happen when you're half-asleep, because your brain is still partly in a dreaming state. The voice might call your name or say something brief. You might also see strange things. These experiences usually stop when you're fully awake.
Poor sleep – sleep problems may cause you to hear voices.
Hunger – you may hear voices if you're extremely hungry.
Physical illness – if you have a very high temperature you may hear voices or see things that other people can't. Hearing voices can sometimes be a sign of other illnesses. If you're concerned about this, it's important to speak to your doctor.
Drugs – you may hear or see things after taking recreational drugs or as a side effect of some prescribed drugs. You might also have these experiences when you're coming off drugs.
Stress or worry – you may hear voices while feeling very stressed, anxious or worried.
Bereavement – if you've 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 start hearing voices after being abused or bullied. This may include hearing the voice of someone who abused you. You may hear them being unkind or threatening, or telling you to harm yourself.
Spiritual experiences – some people hear a voice as part of a spiritual experience. This may be a very special experience 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.
It can be hard to talk about hearing voices. The way other people react can make a big difference to your experience.
You may feel able to cope with your voices but find that other people’s reactions are more of a problem. You might feel that you need to hide what your voices say or how often you hear them.
It may be difficult to be around others if your voices are distracting you. Or you may find your voices harder to manage in some social situations.
You might find that other people:
- Give your voices meanings or assume that your voices mean you are seriously ill
- Don't mind about your voices and accept them as part of who you are
- Don’t understand what hearing voices is like, which can be frustrating
- Get frustrated if you’re distracted by your voices
Talking about your voices with someone you really trust might help you feel more comfortable. If you're worried about their reaction, you could show them this information.
I didn't want to talk about it because that would somehow make it more real.
Facing stigma and misconceptions
Unfortunately, some people have misconceptions about what it means to hear voices. They might think that hearing voices means you're dangerous or very unwell. This can be upsetting, especially if the people who feel this way are family, friends or colleagues.
Our culture or religion can impact how we experience or describe our voices. Some professionals may not be aware of cultural differences in understanding voices. This may make it more difficult to find support that reflects your own understanding of your experiences. Our information on racism and mental health has more details about inequality in the mental health system, including suggestions for overcoming barriers to support.
If your friends, family or wider community hold negative views about what it means to hear voices, you might feel afraid to tell anyone about it or ask for help. This might increase your stress levels and make the voices more distressing.
It's important to remember that you're not alone. You don't have to put up with people treating you badly.
See our pages on stigma and misconception for lots of ideas on dealing with stigma.
My journey to recovery wasn’t easy. I was faced with stigma and discrimination by so many people.
Hearing voices and hallucinations
Watch Juno talk about his experience of hearing voices.
This information was published in November 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References and bibliography available on request.
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