"An auditory hallucination, or paracusia, is a form of hallucination that involves perceiving sounds without auditory stimulus. "1All these posh words are a way of describing the phenomenon known as hearing voices that aren't really there. I was asked on Twitter to blog about this in a certain context so this is for my fellow Welsh Schizophrenic!
Hearing voices is a common symptom of schizophrenia, I've no idea of the statistic but I'm guessing it's a majority, possibly even a vast majority! Yet hearing voices isn't a symptom of mental illness!
I'm guessing that here you are re-reading the last paragraph. At the start of it, I said that hearing voices is a common symptom of schizophrenia yet at the end I said it isn't a symptom of mental illness! But both statements are true!
Hearing voices by itself is NOT a symptom of mental illness. Research done a few years ago revealed that about 4% of people regularly hear voices.2 The important word in that last sentence is 'regularly'. The article I found that statistic on doesn't specify what it means by regularly but reading it makes me believe that the voice(s) is present on a weekly or possibly even daily basis. So if schizophrenia affects around 1% of the population and 4% of the population hears voices, that would indicate that hearing voices doesn't necessarily indicate schizophrenia, the most common illness to be diagnosed with when hearing voices.
Another point I'd like to make when it comes to hearing voices, people think that hearing voices is rare. A lot of people also think that mental illnesses as a whole are rare too. Let me put that into perspective. Although there is no set global rule of what statistic defines a rare illness, one source (yes OK, it was Wikipedia) says that the number is anywhere between 0.1% and 0.0005% of the population. Now even the bigger statistic of 0.1% is considerably smaller than the 1% who are schizophrenics, 4% who are voice hearers and massively smaller than the 25% of the population who have a mental illness. The smaller percentage, 0.0005%, is 8,000 times smaller than the 4% of the population who regularly hears voices! So still think hearing voices is rare?
So moving onto the topic I was asked to blog about, the organisation known as the Hearing Voices Network.3 I've been pointed to this organisation before but have never really looked into them much but was, and still am, of the opinion that they are helpful to voice hearers (and to those who have other types of hallucinations). So hearing that my Welsh friend was angry about them, I had to butt into the conversation and ask why. He said that the HVN encourage the liberation of auditory hallucinations and to be honest, I didn't see the problem with that. I could see where he was coming from, being angry that the HVN encourage people to listen to their voices is a rational feeling. Yet I could also see where the HVN are coming from. If a person knows that their voices aren't real, the voices aren't upsetting and they don't let the voices interfere with their daily life, I don't see a problem with listening to and even liking their voices! To me, it seems no different to having an imaginary friend, which I believe is not harmful to anyone of any age! It is when a voice seems real, is upsetting and does interfere with daily life that help needs to be sought.
This is just my opinion remember. I know that not everything that comes out of my mouth is pure gold and indisputable fact. To be honest, not a lot that comes out of my mouth is pure gold and indisputable fact but I, like everyone else, is entitled to our own opinions!
The next controversy I would like to pick up on is the treatment of voices. If a voice hearer needs help, then usually the two opinions are medication and talking therapy. Some people find medication helpful. If that is the case then I'm not here to encourage anyone to not take meds. But only about 80% of people find psychiatric drugs useful and I am part of the 20% that found them useless. And harmful. If medication doesn't help, then I do believe that a person shouldn't take them. Those who find their medication useful may be screaming at me to not even suggest coming off medication regardless of whether or not it is working. But with all the side effects that go along with psychiatric medications, why should a person keep taking pill that is no more effective at treating voices than aspirin?
Talking therapy should be offered from the first time distressing auditory hallucinations are mentioned. However, I know that waiting lists are very long though so medications are usually given in the meantime. But talking therapy is what helped me. What saved me. Medication has left me with possibly permanent side effects and has not helped me. Talking therapy has left me with a quiet head and a chance at living a 'normal' life. For anyone who's interested, I'm no longer on any anti-psychotic medication and I am nearly off the anti-depressant I have been on for four years. My recovery is all down to the talking therapy I received.
If medication does work for you though, keep taking it. If a medication is helping but causing distressing side effects, speak to your doctor or psychiatrist. If they refuse to listen, ask to see another psychiatrist or a second opinion. Everyone is entitled to proper patient-oriented care and there's usually a good complaints procedure in hospitals/CMHTs! If you have not received talking therapy, ask to be referred for it. You will be assessed and prioritised but remember that the waiting lists are long. The sooner you ask for referral, the sooner you will receive it.
And with that, it's time for bed. I have a doctor's appointment in 11 hours so I should really get some sleep beforehand.
1 Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auditory_hallucination