Been feeling surreal lately, and think you might be seeing things? Or has someone told you you are having hallucinations because you are hearing things?

What are hallucinations?

While seeing things or hearing voices are the most common forms of hallucinations, they aren't the only way they can manifest.

A hallucination is when your senses perceive something as real that isn’t actually there. That could be a visual, a sound, a smell, a feeling you are being touched, or even a strange taste in your mouth.

Examples of hallucinating

So you are hallucinating if any of the following happen and others say they aren’t there or real:

  • hearing someone call your name
  • or music playing in the background
  • seeing cats or other animals
  • or shapes floating in the air
  • a sense your arm is being brushed
  • or someone is tapping you on the shoulder
  • constantly smelling gasoline
  • or tasting it.

What if I think I’m being followed?

This is a thought, not a sensory experience. So it’s referred to as a delusion.

A delusion is when you believe or think something to be true when there is no factual evidence, and others around you don’t share the experience.

Classic examples are being convinced that:

  • the government is spying on you
  • someone is watching you through your TV
  • your teacher can read your mind
  • that you are developing a superpower
  • or that you are God.

Are hallucination and delusions related?

They are both linked to psychosis, and psychosis is a symptom of schizophrenia.

Psychosis means you have lost touch with reality, and your mind is constantly playing tricks on you.

As well as schizophrenia, it can also be a symptom of:

Why am I having hallucinations?

The mind can experience hallucinations when under extreme physical stress. For example, people report having hallucinations if they are starving, or haven’t slept for days. And you might have had hallucinations when you had a fever, or were very sick, or had a reaction to a medication.

Of course the mind can experience extreme stress from things that aren’t physical. This can include tings like bereavement, and psychological trauma. Many people with a traumatic childhood don’t experience hallucinations. But it does make you more likely to have them as an adult.

And then of course substance abuse can stress the brain. You can develop schizophrenia from drug use and heavy alcohol abuse.

`*If you are a middle aged or an older adult, note that hallucinations can be connected to Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, so it’s worth talking to your GP about it.

Is having hallucinations genetic?

There is a genetic component, yes. You are more likely to end up with hallucinations if someone in your immediate family has them.

This still tends to require an environmental ‘trigger’, however. For example, if you were genetically prone to having hallucinations or psychosis but had a very calm, easy life, you might never develop them. But if you had the tendency and then live through childhood trauma, it could trigger them.

Can I get help for hallucinations and psychosis?

Yes, and if your hallucinations are directly affecting your ability to cope or your quality of life, it’s important that you do.

There is no magic wand. They can’t be cured, but they can be managed. Treatment is usually a mix of antipsychotic medication and talk therapy.

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