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Diet & Nutrition

Do you see dead people? You’re not the only one

Queensland scientists say that hearing voices and seeing things is a condition that affects an astonishing five per cent of people at some point during their lives.

By Michael Sheather
Queensland scientists say that hearing voices and seeing things is a condition that affects an astonishing five per cent of people at some point during their lives.
Hallucinations and delusions are more common than previously thought affecting as much as five per cent of the population, says researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute.
An international study led by both The University of Queensland and Harvard Medical School examined more than 31,000 people from 19 countries, including Australia, in the most comprehensive study on hallucinatory experiences ever completed.
Incredibly, it’s not just the mentally ill who hear voices in their heads or see things that aren’t there.
"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," says lead researcher Professor John McGrath from the Queensland Brain Institute.
"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, not only is hearing voices more common than previously thought, but it's not always linked to serious mental illness."
The study involved approaching randomly selected members of the community, sitting down with them and conducting a very detailed interview about their mental health.
The study found that auditory hallucinations are more common in women than men, and they are also more common in people from wealthier countries.
Professor McGrath says the findings could help generate new research into the causes of these isolated symptoms.
"In particular, we are interested in learning why some people recover, while others may progress to more serious disorders such as schizophrenia," he says.
"We need to understand why it's temporary for some people and permanent for others. We can use these findings to start identifying whether the mechanisms causing these hallucinations are the same or different in both situations.
"We need to rethink the link between hearing voices and mental health -- it's more subtle than previously thought.
"While some people may experience a false perception that is fleeting in nature - such as mistakenly hearing their name called out in public - the kinds of hallucinations and delusions we are talking about are quite detailed, for example hearing voices that no one else can hear or a belief that somebody else has taken over your mind.
"People should be reassured that there isn't anything necessarily wrong with them if it happens once or twice, but if people are having regular experiences, we recommend that they seek help."

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