If your child has reported hearing voices, but you can’t hear them, nor can anyone else, don’t panic; a surprising number of kids hear voices that are only audible in their own heads, and in most cases it’s nothing to worry about.
Researchers in Dublin conducted a study that involved psychiatric assessment of about 2,500 children between the ages of 11 and 16. The results, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, revealed that more than one-fifth of those kids in the 11 to 13 age range had experienced auditory hallucinations, i.e. hearing voices no one else could hear.
Around half of that group were found to have some kind of non-psychotic disorder such as depression (hardly uncommon at any age). In the older group, aged 13 to 16, only about 7% reported experiencing the phenomenon, but of those nearly four-fifths were found to have a discernible psychological problem.
Dr. Ian Kelleher of the Psychiatry Department at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and head researcher in the study, noted that in most cases auditory hallucinations are just a temporary aberration and do not have any significant correlation with mental disorder. However, he said, for some children they can be warning signs of serious problems such as clinical depression and/or behavioural disorders, for example ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Dr. Kelleher also explained that the experience is different for each child. He/she may hear shouting or whispers, an isolated word or sentence or entire conversations. They may occur at any time and last for a minute or much longer, and they can happen at intervals of months or only hours.
Co-researcher Mary Cannon added that the incidence of auditory hallucinations appears to be much more common than expected, but that it should not be ignored as unimportant. If the occurrence continues into later adolescence, it could signal the presence of various mental health issues that require a more comprehensive psychiatric assessment.