Healthy Living – February 4, 2014
Dr. David Prescott – Eastern Maine Medical Center Behavioral Medicine
Auditory hallucinations – hearing sounds or voices that appear to come from within the mind – have been to focus of inquiry for centuries. While auditory hallucinations may represent symptoms of a significant mental illness, they also occur for reasons not suggestive of a mental illness.
How Common Are Auditory Hallucinations? Surveys of both college students and adults concerning how many people experience hearing some type of voice are surprising. For example:
· Almost 30-40% of college students report that they have heard voices while awake, and almost half of those report hearing them at least once a month.
· Between 8-12% of adults report having had at least one hallucinatory experience.
· Experiencing a hallucination does not necessarily mean that a person will develop a significant mental health problem.
Thus, hearing a voice or sound that isn’t really there can mean many different things. In his recent book “Hallucinations,” neurologist Oliver Sacks describes some of the neurological bases for hallucinations, and argues that hallucinations are simply part of the human experience. He describes stories of people in both common and extreme situations (for example, people severely injured who were miles from help) who clearly hear voices. Nevertheless, there are certain patterns of auditory hallucinations which indicate the need for mental health treatment.
Common Mental Health Problems that Involve Hallucinations: Sometimes, hearing voices or sounds is a symptom of a significant psychiatric problem. Examples include:
· Schizophrenia: In addition to auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations, people with schizophrenia often become highly disorganized in their behavior. Typically their level of functioning at school or work declines significantly. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucination associated with schizophrenia.
· Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder involves intense mood swings beyond the normal “ups and downs” of everyday life. Hallucinations may be part of the manic or depressed cycle of bipolar disorder.
· Organic Illnesses: Hallucinations may be a symptom of classis brain pathology, such as a tumor, dementia, or seizures.
· Substance Induce Psychosis: Use of alcohol or other drugs, either short or long term, can cause hallucinations.
Treatments for Hallucinations: Obviously, the need for treatment and the type of treatment best suited depends on the frequency, type, and level of impairment associated with a hallucination. In certain situations, such as an occasional hallucination or hearing a voice associated with a strong spiritual experience, no treatment is necessary. Considerations for treatment would include:
· Thorough psychological and physical assessment: If a hallucination is bothersome or disruptive, it is important to receive a thorough evaluation by a medical or mental health professional.
· Medications: Antipsychotic or mood stabilizing medications are often helpful in reducing the intensity, or eliminating, hallucinations.
· Psychotherapy: In some cases, people come to understand hallucinations as their own inner voice, often speaking in metaphors about some unresolved problem or issue in their life. In other cases, people with hallucinations can use psychotherapy techniques to better cope with hallucinations when they occur.
For more information:
American Psychological Association Help Center: <http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/>
“Hallucinations: by author Oliver Sacks: http://www.oliversacks.com/
TED Talk by Eleanor Longden: <http://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head.html