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Hearing Voices: Auditory Hallucinations and their effects

Updated on February 19, 2013

The Psychological and Psychiatric mainstream view is that ”Hearing Voices”, or auditory hallucinations, are associated with various psychotic disorders. If pressed they would cite cases like Peter Suttcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper who killed several prosititutes on the orders of voices in his head and numnerous clinical studies. They do not have any desire to inflame controversy by citing Joan of Arc or the prophets of the Old Testament who heard the ”Voice of God”, including Moses who came back to earth with 10 commandments as pychotic (The rumour is God only gave him one, but when he heard they were free Moses asked for 10), and the reports that President George Bush the younger talked to God and heard answers seem to have been buried. It would appear that if you hear voices you are classed as insane but if you hear God talking to you you can pass the collection plate and get it filled.

Auditory Hallucinations are neither Rare nor dangerous

A recent article by Agnes A Bartels-Veltuis of the University Medical Centre in Groningen published in the The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196: A2. doi: 10.1192/bjp.196.1.A2 revealed that up to 16% of mentally healthy children and teenagers hear disembodied voices from time to time. Of the 3870 7 to 8 year old primary school children questioned, heard voices no one else could hear. That is about 387. Of these some 19% (roughly 19) said they found them disruptive and about 15% said they were distressing. The researchers stressed that the great majority of the youngsters who have these experiences never become mentally ill.

The results and conclusion of the paper are( I quote it verbatim to avoid getting it wrong)


"The 1-year prevalence of auditory vocal hallucinations was 9%,with substantial suffering and problem behaviour reported in15% of those affected. Prevalence was higher in rural areas but auditory vocal hallucinations were more severe and had greater functional impact in the urban environment. There was little evidence for associations with developmental variables."


Auditory vocal hallucinations in 7- and 8-year-olds are prevalent but mostly of limited functional impact. Nevertheless, there may be continuity with more severe psychotic outcomes given the serious suffering in a subgroup of children and there is evidence for a poorer prognosis in an urban environment.

It would be interesting to know whether the children affected where high in the Openness dimension of the 5 factor personality model.

Suicide clusters and disembodied voices

In ”Connected” by Christakis and Fowler the authors discuss teeange suicide clusters, bursts of teenage suicides in particular communities, which they put down to social contagion and in many cases this explanation is enough, for example a New York Times article describing a suicide resulted in an increase in the national suicide rate. And they cite the banning of Goethe's book ”The Sorrows of Young Werther” in which the main character commits suicide, after copycat suicides by young men. They also note that careful wording of reports of suicides can reduce the likelhood of copycat suicides.

However in one case from a small town in Manitoba Canada there were six suicides and 19 attempted suicides in four months. A doctor flown in to assist the community described several cases where teenagers heard voices of the victims beckoning them.


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