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What are the common misconceptions of people who hear voices?

When we think of people who hear voices, one of the more common things that we might think of is a mentally ill person. Though this is not always the case. Research shows, 1 in every 8 people will experience hearing a voice or voices, at some point in their life; and as no two people’s experiences are ever the same, it is impossible to categorise and group voice-hearers experiences together. With each person’s experience being unique to the individual, it is imperative to understand the importance of detaching the stigma surrounding hearing voices and instead to open up healthy conversations surrounding the topic. When I myself first began to hear voices, one of my biggest fears, aside from the overbearing, frightening and derogatory nature of the voices themselves, was actually that other people would be able to tell I was hearing them. The more I began to hear voices, the less I began to socialise with other people and the less I began to take part in normal everyday activities, like going out with friends, or even grocery shopping. Everything felt extremely frightening and overbearing for me, but the less and less I went out the worse the voices got. This eventually led to me not leaving the house for months at a time. I found it easier to isolate myself and stay where I felt safe and more at ease with managing my voices. I began to develop an intense fear that other people could see my illness on the outside, once an outgoing and bubbly person, I had become terrified of even walking down the street. As I had no idea when and how the voices would pop up I became afraid that they would appear in front of other people, and that people would somehow know I was hearing them. At my worst, the voices became so intense that I was unable to hear what other people were saying to me and staying focused in a conversation was near enough impossible. Not only was I afraid of what other people might think, but as my experience was so unique to me, I began to realise that no one else could hear what I was hearing. It made me feel extremely alone. This was a fear I now know stemmed from being judged by other people for my experiences. This not only highlights the importance of opening up conversations about the experiences of voice-hearers, but also the stigma surrounding hearing voices itself. Vocalising and opening up conversations about your experiences enables you to try to better understand what a person might be going through. Although mental health has become a larger topic of conversation in current years, it appears that people who hear voices are still the most stigmatised, with topics like psychosis and schizophrenia being seen as taboo. I hope that as time goes on and we continue to educate ourselves surrounding the topic, we talk about psychosis and schizophrenia as openly as we do with depression and anxiety and that voice-hearers are shown the same level of compassion as people experiencing more common mental illnesses. As these are unfortunately some of the more stigmatised mental illnesses, this has led to a lot of misconceptions surrounding voice-hearers. Some of the more common ones being; That a person is ‘crazy’ or has ‘lost their mind’ That a person is being controlled That its ‘not that scary an experience’ That a person is ‘dangerous’ All voice hearers experience negative voices That a person must have a split personality That only schizophrenic people can hear voices That voice hearers must be ‘unwell’ That a person is ‘unpredictable’ That it is ‘not that difficult an experience’ Through addressing these common misconceptions, we can help people to better understand that these are not always true, and that people who experience voices are just as ‘normal’ as everyone else. Then we are able to break down some of the stigma surrounding the topic of voice-hearing and better treat people who experience them. Research highlights that one of the most effective ways to deal with voices is to vocalise and address them - a key concept of Avatar Therapy. Since doing the therapy myself, not only have I experienced a drastic reduction in voice hearing, but I am now more able to open up about my experiences with the people around me, something I believe has been a huge factor in my recovery. - SJ

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