One in five teenagers hears voices

Kim Hookem-Smith
Yahoo Lifestyle12 April 2012

Just over a fifth of young teenagers admit to hearing voices in their heads, according to a new study of 2,500 adolescents in Ireland. Between the ages of 11 and 13, around 22 per cent of children involved in the study admitted hearing voices, from whispers to screams.

In the study, funded by the Health Research Board (HRB), the teenagers were given four clinical assessments. Of the 11-13 year olds who heard voices, more than half were diagnosed with a psychiatric condition.

[Related story: Teens look for mental health help]

Hearing voices, known as auditory hallucinations, becomes less common as teenagers grow up. In the next age group, 13-16-year-olds, only 7 per cent claimed to be affected. By the age of 18, the vast majority still suffering (80 per cent) will be diagnosed with a mental illness.

The research gives valuable reassurance that supposed psychiatric symptoms are not always as serious as they may seem.

The types of voices the teenagers heard were also found to vary widely.

"It may present like screaming or shouting and other times it could sound like whispers or murmurs," lead researcher Dr Ian Dr Kelleher said. "It varies greatly from child to child, and frequency can be once a month to once every day."

The study does make a link between early auditory hallucinations with mental illness but has reassured parents that often they are just a ‘blip’.

"In most cases these experiences resolve with time," the HRB scientist explained. "However, in some children these experiences persist into older adolescence and this seems to be an indicator that they may have a complex mental health issue and require more in-depth assessment."

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