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Normalizing Voices

By Nicole Parker, James Welsman and Brian Major

With depression and anxiety being talked about more frequently, we are on our way to reducing the stigma associated with mental health. However, one thing that is not discussed as openly, is when a person admits that they hear voices, often leaving others to be caught off guard.

How Common Is It?

It has been suggested that 3% to 10% of the population hears voices that other people do not. Although the reason why an individual may hear voices varies, some of the underlying reasons could be due to trauma, stress, underlying mental health conditions, medical conditions such as delirium, substance misuse, genetic predisposition, as well as loneliness or isolation. However, just because a person hears voices, does not necessarily mean they have a mental illness.

Why Do Some People Want to Keep Hearing Voices?

One aspect of voice-hearing that many do not understand, is why a person who hears voices would want to keep hearing voices? The reason why this occurs, is because if a person hears positive voices, they are more likely to want to keep them because of the sense of closeness they feel. If people feel that they have positive company all the time when they are lonely, they are less likely to seek medical attention.

Unfortunately, sometimes even the most positive voices can turn mean or get commanding, increasing the necessity for medical assistance. Voices do not also always build up gradually, sometimes they sneak up on people either through initial floating thoughts, gapping out, daydreaming or losing sense of time. It varies for everyone.

What Are Some Coping Mechanisms?

Although the experience of hearing voices can vary by person there are ways to cope. Some of the common ways of coping with hearing voices is through listening to music or audio through headphones, increasing physical activity, changing their location, avoiding substance misuse, resting, taking medications or reciting positive affirmations. Individuals may also benefit from booking specific times to meet with their voices in private, thereby reducing interference with other activities throughout the day.

If a person hears more than one voice, they may need to employ different strategies for each of them. For example, if they hear a voice of a girl that’s sad, calming her down may be helpful for the individual, whereas another voice may require discipline.

Additionally, keeping a journal of the time a voice occurs, who it was and what was said, can help an individual to find a common pattern and determine what coping strategy that is best for them. A person may find that some voices exist only when they are home alone at night, whereas others may occur specifically when they are in public places, such as a supermarket. By keeping track of the who, what, where and how, a person will more easily be able to determine the coping strategy that works best for them.

As mentioned before, sometimes the voices that a person hears are positive. Some examples of positive voices may include angels or spirits that tell them positive things about themselves. In these cases, experiencing grief after they no longer hear these voices is completely normal.

How Do I Help Someone if They Tell Me They’re Hearing Voices?

If someone tells you that they are hearing voices, first ensure that the person is safe, while listening non-judgmentally. Ask them if they are in control of their voices, what the voices are saying, if they are commanding the person to engage in unsafe behaviours, etc. Look for a pattern and help the person to find supports.

Are There Support Groups at CMHA York Region and South Simcoe?

  CMHA York Region and South Simcoe offers a Hearing Voice Support Group, for those who experience voice-hearing and/or alternate realities. Currently the group is offered virtually through Zoom as part of Community Connections. You can also reach out to central intake at 1-866-345-0183, ext. 3321 or check out our program offerings our website for additional help.

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