Hearing voices or seeing visions is a relatively common human experience. Statistics vary, but anywhere between 3 and 10% of the general population hear voices at some point in their lives. Beavan et al (2010) put this figure as high as 13.7%. So, hearing voices – in itself – isn’t a sign of mental ill health. However, some people hear voices that make them feel overwhelmed and confused.
If you’re struggling to cope with your voices or visions it may be a sign you need some extra help or support. This page tells you about some of the different forms of support on offer in England. If you are from another country, please see: Intervoice for information on a Hearing Voices Network near to you.
“When I first started hearing voices I was knocked for six. I could hear people talking about me all the time, criticising everything I did and berating me for being fat, ugly and stupid. I started to think that they were watching me through cameras – how else would they be able to see what I was doing? I started to isolate myself and drink to blot out the voices. It was hell, and I had no one to talk to.
Opening up was hard, but I knew I needed to get some help. I couldn’t cope alone any more. It took me a while to find people who would listen to me – but I got there. I no longer need medication to cope and my voices are much less distressing. Going to a Hearing Voices Group and finding a supported housing project helped me find myself again”.
Should I Talk to Someone About My Voices or Visions?
No matter what your experience, it’s often a good thing to have someone in your life that you can talk to. This might be a partner, friend, relative, counsellor, spiritual leader or support worker. Because voice-hearing is such a stigmatised experience in the UK, many voice-hearers feel that they need to keep their experience a secret. This is understandable, but it can be hard having a part of your life that you feel is shameful or somehow wrong.
If you have someone in your life you feel you can trust, it’s worth thinking about opening up to them. If you’re worried about their response, you might like to print off part of this website and share it with them. If they are worried or shocked, they can always ring our office to talk through their own concerns.
If you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel able to trust with your experiences, you might want to think about joining a Hearing Voices Group or our online discussion forum. These are places that you will, hopefully, feel heard and understood – whatever your experience.
Do I Need to See a Doctor?
This depends on what your experiences are and, most importantly, how they’re affecting you. Signs that you need to speak to someone to get some extra support, include:
- Feeling really desperate, like you can’t carry on anymore
- Hurting yourself, or lashing out at others, because of what your voices say (or how they make you feel)
- Feeling very confused and/or struggling to concentrate because of your experiences
- Feeling frightened or scared because of your experiences
- Struggling to work or study because of the voices or visions
If any of these apply to you, please speak to someone about how you’re feeling. This might be your GP, but there are also other places you can seek support and advice if you don’t feel able to approach your doctor (see below).
If you decide to go and see your GP because you’re struggling to cope with your voices, they’ll probably refer you to the mental health services. Services vary in different parts of the country, but most services should have heard of the Hearing Voices Network. Some even have Hearing Voices Groups within their service. It’s important that you feel in control of what’s happening to you – so feel free to ask as many questions as you need to.
Mental Health Services should be able to offer you different types of support – including counselling, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and medication. If you don’t want to try medication, your wishes should be respected unless the doctor feels you’re at immediate risk of harm.
Can I Choose Who I See?
There are an increasing number of psychiatrists who are open to the Hearing Voices Approach and are willing to support someone who hears voices make sense of their experiences (with, or without, medication). For example, the Critical Psychiatry Network is a network of practicing psychiatrists and medical students sympathetic to the HVN approach. Approaches vary from doctor to doctor, and some still have a very biomedical approach. This can make seeing a psychiatrist feel a little like a ‘post-code lottery’.
The NHS is changing this situation for physical health – making it a patient’s right to be able to choose the specialist they see. Whilst this isn’t yet the case in mental health, the government are planning to implement this right in 2014 (see this Guardian article for more information).
Whilst people needing mental health support don’t yet have the legal right to choose their psychiatrist, an increasing number of NHS Trusts are using the new ‘Choose & Book’ system to allow patients to have more choice. If you want to exercise choice, ask your GP if they are registered with Choose & Book and see what mental health providers are available through it.
Find out more about Choose & Book here: www.chooseandbook.nhs.uk/patients
Also see the Critical Psychiatry website: www.criticalpsychiatry.co.uk
Should I Take Medication?
Whatever the cause of your experiences, it’s up to you whether or not you try medication to help you cope. Whilst some people find medication is really helpful in lessening or suppressing the distressing voices they hear, others find that the medication doesn’t help at all or comes with unacceptable side effects. As everyone is different, it’s a matter of finding out what works for you.
If you can, try and find out as much as possible about your options before you make a choice. If you decide to take medication, try and remember that it doesn’t ‘fix’ the underlying issue. It’s still important to try and make sense of why you’re hearing voices and deal with any issues that may be triggering the difficult aspects of your experience. Some people find viewing medication as a short term rest from distressing experiences that enable them to regain their strength. Other find that the medication is useful in the longer term.
If you decide that you don’t want to take medication, or want to begin to reduce your dose, it’s important to get support to deal with your voices or visions in other ways. If you see a doctor, it may be helpful to take articles or information with you to explain your decision to not use medication – showing them that you’re making an informed choice. It may also be helpful to have an advocate or friend present to provide support. The doctor should respect your wishes unless they believe you’re at immediate risk of harming yourself or someone else.
Making Sense of Antipsychotics (Mind): www.mind.org.uk/assets/0002/1437/Making_sense_of_antipsychotics_2012.pdf
A Straight Talking Guide to Psychiatric Drugs (PCCS Books): www.pccs-books.co.uk/products/a-straight-talking-introduction-to-psychiatric-drugs/
The Myth of the Chemical Cure (Dr Joanna Moncrieff on BBC News): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8138893.stm
Healing ‘Schizophrenia’: Using Medication Wisely (John Watkins): www.amazon.co.uk/Healing-Schizophrenia-Using-Medication-Wisely/dp/0855723769
Making Sense of Coming Off of Psychiatric Drugs (Mind): www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/7996_making_sense_of_coming_off_psychiatric_drugs
Where Else Can I Get Support?
Whether or not you decide to go and see your GP, there are lots of different places people who hear distressing voices can get support. These include:
Samaritans: www.samaritans.org | 08457 90 90 90 | firstname.lastname@example.org
A 24 hour confidential helpline that is open 365 days a year
Rethink Advice Line: 0300 5000 927
Open Monday – Friday, 10.00am – 1.00pm, offers practical advice and information
Childline: www.childline.org.uk | 0800 11 11
A 24 hour confidential helpline for children and young people
Counselling or Therapy
Making Sense of Talking Treatments (Mind): www.mind.org.uk/assets/0002/2623/Making_sense_of_talking_treatments_2012.pdf
A booklet that gives an overview of the different talking therapies.
It’s Good To Talk: www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk
A website provided by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) providing information about counselling and a directory of therapists.
UK Council for Psychotherapy: www.psychotherapy.org.uk/public.html
Like the BACP, the UK Council for Psychotherapy is a network of registered psychotherapists. See their site to find out more and search their directory.
Bowlby Centre: www.thebowlbycentre.org.uk/psychotherapywhy.htm
Attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapy organisation
Depending on your beliefs around your experiences, you may want to seek support outside of the mental health field. This might include a spiritual leader (e.g. Imam, Rabbi, Priest, Chaplain, Shaman or Lama) or a respected member of your community. Other sources of support include:
Spiritual Crisis Network: www.spiritualcrisisnetwork.org.uk
“Spiritual crisis (often called Spiritual Emergency, Emergence, Awakening or psycho-spiritual crisis) is a turbulent period of spiritual opening and transformation. Our vision is to act as a resource providing help and information: for those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis, for professionals, carers and supporters of those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis”.
An Important Note about Your Rights
No matter where you get support it is important that you do not feel exploited, judged or ridiculed. If this happens to you – please make sure you speak up and get support (whether it’s in the mental health service, day service or faith group). For more information, please see:
Mind’s Guide to Advocacy: www.mind.org.uk/assets/0001/7329/Mind_guide_to_advocacy_2010.pdf
Human Rights Act (Mind Legal Briefing): www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8063_human_rights_act