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Can hearing voices be a good thing? Local people urged to come forward.

03 Apr 2007

Psychologists at The University of Manchester are seeking more volunteers for their research into hearing voices, and why some people consider it a positive experience while others find it distressing.

The investigation began last autumn and follows Dutch research which found that many healthy members of the population there regularly hear voices. Although this has traditionally been viewed as 'abnormal' and a symptom of mental illness, the findings suggested it could affect as many as 4% of the population.

This would equate to around 100,000 Greater Manchester residents, and researcher Aylish Campbell is keen for people to come forward in confidence.

She said: "We know that many members of the general population hear voices but never feel the need to access mental health services; perhaps a far greater number than those who do. Many describe their voices as being a positive influence in their lives, and we're keen to investigate why some people respond in this way while others are distressed and seek outside help."

Psychiatric patients tend to interpret their voices as more distressing and negative than members of the general population, despite their seeming to be of the same volume and frequency. The team believes that external factors such as a person's life experiences and beliefs may be the key to these differences.

"If a person is struggling to overcome a trauma or views themselves as worthless or vulnerable, or other people as aggressive, they may be more likely to interpret their voices as harmful, hostile or powerful," said Aylish. "If they have had more positive life experiences and formed more healthy beliefs about themselves and other people, they might develop a more positive view of their voices."

Since the study began Aylish has interviewed 35 local residents who hear voices, and have had very different experiences. Some have found them extremely distressing, received diagnoses such as schizophrenia and/or been admitted to psychiatric hospitals many times, whilst others have heard voices for many years and lived ordinary lives without accessing psychiatric help.

"Some people have described very negative voices, which threaten or insult them or encourage them to harm themselves," she says. "But others have commented that their voices give them advice about decisions or problems, warn them about dangers or have supported them through difficult periods in their lives.

"People have also reported a range of beliefs about their voices; including that they are the voices of spirits in the afterlife, that they originate from people's own minds or that they are messages from God.

"People being treated for hearing voices are usually given medication in an attempt to eliminate the problem, but by investigating the factors influencing how voices are experienced we hope to contribute to the development of psychological therapies to help people better understand and cope with their voices."

The team would like to hear from people 16 years and over who have heard a voice in the last two weeks and have been hearing voices for at least six months, particularly those who have never accessed mental health services.

A one-off meeting will be carried out at a location to suit the volunteer in complete privacy. Participants will also be asked to complete questionnaires about their experiences. In all, participation in the study will take about an hour-and-a-half. Travel expenses will be reimbursed.

People interested in participating can call 0161 306 0405 or 07708 755 634, or e-mail voicesresearch@hotmail.co.uk

Ends

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Jo Nightingale: 0161 275 8156/jo.nightingale@manchester.ac.uk (Mon - Weds am)
Mikaela Sitford: 0161 275 2111/mikaela.sitford@manchester.ac.uk (Weds - Fri)