Hallucinations Are More Common Than You Think

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(IN PHOTO)A visitor looks at inflatable plastic balloons, part of the "Dots Obsession" exhibition created by Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama, in Brussels October 30, 2007. Kusama's dots were inspired from her childhood hallucinations and have the ambition to integrate the visitors into her work. REUTERS

A new study, published in journal JAMA Psychiatry and funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council John Cade Fellowship, has concluded that hallucinations and delusions are a common occurrence in the people than previously thought. The researchers at the University of Queensland and Harvard Medical School found about five percent of the general population, at some point in their lives, experience seeing things and hearing voices which others do not see or hear. Moreover, the researchers claim that auditory hallucinations are more common among women than men, and more so, in those living in well-developed countries.

The aforementioned conclusion was drawn after analysing more than 31,000 people from 19 countries who did not seek any kind of mental health assistance. It was a population-based survey where people were approached randomly and were exposed to a very detailed interview about their mental health. The study author, Professor John McGrath of Queensland Brain Institute, says, “We used to think that only people with psychosis heard voices or had delusions, but now we know that otherwise healthy, high-functioning people also report these experiences."

He further adds, “Of those who have these experiences, a third only have them once and another third only have two-to-five episodes across their life. These people seem to function reasonably well. So it's incredibly interesting that not only is hearing voices more common than previously thought, but it's not always linked to serious mental illness."

McGrath believes that the study findings might prove to be helpful in leading a way for new research methodologies which could help in finding the causes of these isolated symptoms. He says, “In particular, we are interested in learning why some people recover, while others may progress to more serious disorders such as schizophrenia. We need to understand why it's temporary for some people and permanent for others. We also need to rethink the link between hearing voices and mental health, it’s more subtle than previously thought.”

According to McGrath, people might experience someone calling their name under false perception, but hallucinations and delusions are quite detailed. A person suffering from such mental disorder hears voices which no one does, or is under the impression that someone has taken over his/her mind. He explains that it is quite normal to experience such a thing once or twice but warns that if such incidences seem to make a frequent reappearance, seeking medical help is of utmost importance.

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