What does it mean to “hear voices”?
Most often, if someone says that they’re hearing voices, it means they’re hearing something that those around them don’t hear. This is different from hearing your own thoughts, in that it is most often the sound of someone else’s voice, rather than your own internal monologue. Medical professionals may also call these “auditory hallucinations”. Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify that you are experiencing auditory hallucinations, as they can seem like a very real part of your life.
Auditory hallucinations can take on different forms, including:
Hearing voices, such as people talking to you or about you
Hearing animal sounds
Hearing background noise, such as people talking around you
At the end of the day, each person experiencing auditory hallucinations will have a unique experience. If you believe you or someone you know may be hearing voices, it may be time consider exploring support options.
“One night, I thought I heard my roommates talking about me through the walls... I tried to ignore it and go to sleep, but I couldn’t. I stayed up all night listening...”
- Kelly, read about her journey
What is it like to have auditory hallucinations?
It’s different for every person that has these experiences. For some it may be a positive and helpful experience. For others it can be negative and upsetting. For some, these sounds or voices are temporary and come and go. For others, they are persistent and lasting.
Example characteristics of auditory hallucinations
An auditory hallucination might:
Be feminine or masculine in tone
Whisper or shout
Be encouraging and comforting or be threatening and cruel
Speak your native language or a different one
Comment on what you’re doing
Remind you to do things you need to do
Causes of auditory hallucinations
If you’re hearing voices, or having other auditory hallucinations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a mental health challenge. In fact, a 2022 study notes that 10-15% of people of all ages without a known mental health condition experience auditory hallucinations.
While it’s not yet fully understood exactly why someone may experience auditory hallucinations, there are a few different things that we know may cause these experiences.
Some causes of auditory hallucinations
Alcohol and heavy drinking
Drugs, especially hallucinogens like ecstasy and LSD
Lack of sleep
Extreme hunger or dehydration
Side effects from medicine
High fevers and infections
Traumatic life experiences
Intense stress or worry
No matter the cause, if you’re hearing voices, it’s important to get support sooner than later. Asking for help can be hard but it can make a world of difference, and there are a wide range of support options to consider.
Continue reading to learn tips for coping with voices and auditory hallucinations on a daily basis.
How to cope with voices
If you’re hearing voices, or having other auditory hallucinations, there are different things you can try to help cope.
Listen to music. Using headphones can be especially helpful.
Do something, anything that makes you focus on something else. This includes reading a book, drawing or making art, writing in a journal, doing a puzzle, playing an instrument, gardening, counting down from 100.
Find the things and people that help foster positive thoughts and feelings about yourself and the world. Check out this video by Oxford Sparks that discusses how being around people can help you cope.
Frame thoughts and words into positive messages as much as possible. Counteract negative messages by repeating aloud something positive about yourself. Say it 100 times if it helps.
Talk with a supportive friend, parent, or trusted adult. This can be hard, and they may not understand what you’re going through. Here are a few tips for opening up to someone you trust. (Sharing this article with them may also help them better understand.)
Take control. For some, engaging with or even challenging the voices can help. You might ask them to come back at a more convenient time or tell them to leave altogether. Or, if they say something negative, you might respond with, “Prove it!”
At the end of the day, what's most important is remembering to have compassion for yourself throughout the process. Check out this video from King's Cultural Community to learn a few tactics for a compassionate approach.