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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019

One-fifth of young adolescents hear voices, study reveals

Hallucinations reported by 11 to 13-year-olds in Dublin ranged from isolated sentences to full conversations.

File photo of teenage boys at school
File photo of teenage boys at school
Image: David Jones/PA Wire/Press Association Images

MORE THAN ONE in five Irish children between the age of 11 and 13 report hearing voices, according to new research into auditory hallucinations.

Roughly 21-23 per cent of young adolescents interviewed for the study in Dublin said they had heard voices.

The hallucinations ranged from occasional sentences to full conversations lasting several minutes, lead researcher Ian Kelleher said.

We found that auditory hallucinations were common even in children as young as 11 years old. It may present like screaming or shouting, and other times it could sound like whispers or murmurs. It varies greatly from child to child, and frequency can be once a month to once every day.

More than half of the 11-to-13-year-olds who reported hearing voices were found to have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

Among the children aged between 13 and 16, seven per cent said they had heard voices. However, almost 80 per cent of those experiencing auditory hallucinations were found to have a psychiatric disorder.

The findings show a strong link between hearing voices and serious mental illness, according to researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, who assessed nearly 2,500 children. Kelleher said:

For many children, these experiences appear to represent a ‘blip’ on the radar that does not turn out to signify any underlying or undiagnosed problem. However, for the other children, these symptoms turned out to be a warning sign of serious underlying psychiatric illness, including clinical depression.

He said if children reported hearing voices, doctors should consider that they “may have more than one diagnosis”. The research was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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Michael Freeman

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