I Hear Sounds Sometimes

Published: August 01, 2015
Dear TeenHealthFX,

I hear sounds sometimes, and though it's not often, it's enough to scare me. Knowing my personality, I know that even though I'm only 16 I'm at a high risk of developing schizophrenia and thus, on the rare occasion that I hear things, it really terrifies me. It's usually something short, maybe a brief sentence, usually abnormally loud. .


Dear I Hear Sounds Sometimes,

TeenHealthFX can hear how scared and concerned you are in wondering whether or not the voices that you are hearing indicate schizophrenia - and we’re very glad that you are reaching out for help with this. 

Hearing voices that are not really there is a type of hallucination often experienced by people with schizophrenia. And it would not be uncommon for a male of 16 to be first diagnosed with schizophrenia. While schizophrenia does affect men and women with equal frequency, the disorder often appears earlier in men, usually in their late teens or early twenties; women are generally affected in their twenties to early thirties. 

While the voices you are hearing may indicate a diagnosis of schizophrenia, it is important to rule out other illnesses. Sometimes various mental symptoms or even psychosis can be attributed to an undetected underlying medical condition, drug abuse, or to an alternate mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder. Therefore, it is very important to meet with a physical and/or mental health professional to ensure an accurate diagnosis. 

Schizophrenia is a chronic disease of the brain that affects approximately 1 percent of the population – this means that more than 2 million Americans are currently living with the illness. There is no known single cause of schizophrenia – the cause is most likely a combination of genetic, behavioral, and other factors. It is known that people who have a close relative with schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder than are people who have no relatives with the illness, as schizophrenia does tend to run in families. 

The symptoms associated with schizophrenia can be terrifying to experience – people living with schizophrenia may therefore become easily frightened, anxious or confused. Schizophrenia is characterized by the following symptoms: 

  • Distorted Perceptions of Reality - People with schizophrenia perceive the reality of the world around them very differently, often experiencing various types of hallucinations and/or delusions. As a result of these distorted perceptions, schizophrenics may appear distant, detached, or preoccupied – or may appear wide-awake, vigilant, and alert.

  • Hallucinations – Hearing, seeing, tasting, touching or smelling something that is not there in reality. Hearing voices that other people do not hear is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. These voices may describe the person’s activities, carry on a conversation, warn of impending dangers, or even issue orders to the individual.

  • Delusions - Delusions are false personal beliefs not connected with reality and not explained by a person’s cultural or religious beliefs. Delusions can take on different forms: People with paranoid-type symptoms believe they are being cheated, harassed, poisoned, persecuted or conspired against. People experiencing delusions of grandeur believe they are famous or important figures.

  • Disordered Thinking - Schizophrenia often affects a person’s ability to “think straight.” Thoughts may come and go rapidly and it may be difficult to concentrate and focus on something. People with schizophrenia may not be able to sort out what is relevant and what is not relevant to a situation. The person may be unable to connect thoughts into logical sequences, with thoughts becoming disorganized and fragmented. Any type of “thought disorder” can make conversation very difficult and may contribute to social isolation - if people cannot make sense of what an individual is saying, they are likely to become uncomfortable and tend to leave that person alone.

  • Emotional Expression - People with schizophrenia often show “blunted” or “flat” affect. This means that there is a significant reduction in emotional expressiveness. There may be minimal signs of normal emotion, with schizophrenics often speaking in a monotonous voice, displaying few changes in facial expressions, or appearing extremely apathetic. There may be social withdrawal, decreased motivation, and a reduced interest in or enjoyment of life. In some severe cases, a person can spend entire days doing nothing at all, even neglecting basic hygiene.

  • Normal Versus Abnormal - At times, normal individuals may feel, think, or act in ways that resemble schizophrenia. For example, someone may have trouble “thinking straight” if he or she is feeling anxious about speaking in front of a large group of people. But this is not schizophrenia. At the same time, people with schizophrenia do not always act abnormally. Some people with the illness can appear completely normal and be perfectly responsible, even while they experience hallucinations or delusions. 

There have been a few common misconceptions about schizophrenia. The first is that schizophrenia means someone has a “split personality” – a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde switch in character. But this is not correct! News and entertainment media have also tended to link mental illness and criminal violence; however, studies indicate that except for those persons with a record of criminal violence before becoming ill, and those with substance abuse or alcohol problems, people with schizophrenia are not especially prone to violence. In fact, most individuals with schizophrenia are not violent; more typically, they are withdrawn and prefer to be left alone.

If a psychiatrist or other mental health professional gives you a diagnosis of schizophrenia, remember that this is a time of hope for people with schizophrenia and their families. Research is gradually leading to new and safer medications and unraveling the complex causes of the disease. Even though most people with schizophrenia continue to experience some symptoms throughout their lives, there are various available treatments that can relieve many symptoms.

In terms of treatment, antipsychotic medications reduce the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia and usually allow the patient to function more effectively and appropriately. And contrary to some popular beliefs, these medications do not produce a high or addictive behavior in those who take them. These medications are also not a type of mind control or “chemical straightjacket” and are not intended to “knock out” people. When taken consistently and as prescribed, antipsychotic drugs reduce current symptoms, as well as reduce the risk of future psychotic episodes. These meds are the best treatment now available, but they do not “cure” schizophrenia or ensure that there will be no further psychotic episodes.

Treatment should also include the following: patient and family education about schizophrenia, its symptoms, and the medications being prescribed.

  • Rehabilitation - Rehabilitation programs emphasize social and vocational training to help patients with job training, problem-solving and money management skills, use of public transportation, and social skills training.
  • Individual Psychotherapy – One-on-one counseling sessions that may focus on current or past problems, experiences, thoughts, feelings, or relationships. Patients can also learn to sort out the real from the unreal and distorted.
  • Family Education – Educating the patient and family about schizophrenia, its symptoms, and the medications being prescribed. Family “psychoeducation” also includes teaching various coping strategies, as well as how to try and prevent relapses.
  • Self-Help Groups – These groups are not led by a professional therapist, but instead focus on members providing one another with continued mutual support and comfort in knowing that they are not alone in the problems they face. Self-help groups may also help families to work together as advocates for needed research and hospital and community treatment programs and help greatly in providing useful information and assistance for patients and families of patients with schizophrenia.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 973-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) at 1-800-829-8289.

Signed: TeenHealthFX