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I Hear Voices and I’m Embarrassed – What Do I Do?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you hear voices, or you think you hear voices, you might be ashamed.

Psychosis – particularly the prodromal symptom known as hallucination – is often connected to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another mental health or substance abuse disorder.

But we’ve got news for you.

If you’re hallucinating, you don’t have to feel embarrassed.

Unfortunately, a stigma exists against people who hear voices. Some teens use terms like psychotic or schizophrenic to insult others. These statements can be painful to someone who actually has been diagnosed with mental illness.

But there’s something else we need to tell you if you hear voices. And this might surprise you:

Hearing voices – also known as auditory hallucinations –  is not necessarily something to be ashamed of.

Auditory Hallucinations Don’t Have to Be Bad

Many people hear voices in their heads. The medical and mental health community typically suggest these voices are symptoms of psychosis. But if these voices don’t interrupt your daily functioning or keep you from living your life the way you want to, experts say there might be no reason to get alarmed.

If a teen functions well and can cope as usual, then hearing voices every so often might just be an unusual sensory experience.

On the other hand, if these voices interfere with their life and are make it hard to go places, have typical interactions with people, and maintain healthy relationships, then it’s time to seek treatment.

By definition, a psychotic break indicates a person has lost their ability to carry out the day-to-day functions of living, which is why psychiatrists often hospitalize teens during a psychotic episode. But if there’s no dysfunction, then there’s no reason for a psychiatrist to reach a diagnosis of psychosis.

Hearing Voices May Help Start the Recovery Process

Eleanor Longden is a lifelong voice-hearer who described her experiences living with schizophrenia in a viral Ted Talk in 2013. Now, Longden is a mental health advocate and a member of the International Hearing Voices Project.

Her philosophy on the phenomenon of hearing voices is that it is “not…an aberrant symptom of schizophrenia to be endured, but a complex, significant and meaningful experience to be explored.”

Her organization seeks to remove the stigma against people who hear voices and show that hearing voices is not madness but rather an experience that can be understood, treated, and even respected.

How to Get Help

According to Longden, the voices teens and young adults hear are often significantly related to trauma from the past. Unpacking the origin of these voices can directly lead to overcoming trauma. These voices “can provide important insights into emotional and social conflict,” writes Longden, who is now a research psychologist studying psychosis, dissociation, and complex trauma. Learning how to interpret these voices can help a teen recover more quickly.

That’s why you should talk to an adult or a mental health professional. If you’ve experienced early trauma, live with painful memories from the past, or hear voices in your head, you may need treatment. When the voices you hear stop you from living your life the way you want to – or if they become hostile, commanding, harmful, scary, or tell you to do things you know are dangerous and harmful to yourself or others –  it’s important to get help from a mental health professional immediately.

If you’re not sure how to bring up the topic,  don’t worry. You can start by showing this article to a trusted friend, adult, family friend, relative, or school guidance counselor. Explain to them what you struggle with. They’ll help you take the next step, and get you on the road to healing.

Depending on your circumstances and the result of a full assessment from a mental health professional, you might benefit from treatment. This may include outpatient therapy or an intensive outpatient program/partial hospitalization program. In some cases, a residential treatment program at an accredited mental health treatment center for teens may be appropriate.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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