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The Prejudice Against Hallucinations

I started having abnormal experiences when I was 16. When I was distressed, I would hear a disturbing voice inside my head, cajoling me into doing harmful things. Sometimes I saw huge, brightly coloured insects, crawling across the walls. I’ve experienced short bouts of paranoia and believed people were trying to hurt me. I also suffer with intense dissociations. On the milder end, I live in a fog: my speech is slowed, and I am unaware of my surroundings. On the severer end, I have blank periods of time. With stable medication and good support systems, I no longer experience hallucinations, and my dissociations are less frequent.

Enduring hallucinations has permanently changed my perspective. I put far less trust in my own experiences because I see myself as unreliable. I am cautious of reporting incidents because I question if they really happened. I know my brain can distort reality, changing what people say or how threatening they appear, so I find judgement harder. I am also hyper aware of signs of relapse. If I experience anything unusual, there is a question mark over its reality.

I am not ashamed of experiencing hallucinations, but I feel there is prejudice against it. In my experience, people who hallucinate are treated differently. Hallucinations seem ‘less acceptable’ to talk about than other forms of mental illness and are often made to feel ‘other’. Despite this, there is a growing body of research to suggest hallucinations are far more common than previously thought and do not just affect those with mental health conditions. When I tell people about my conditions, I tend to omit my struggles with hallucinations. Bringing it up feels taboo, and I worry people will think I am ‘dangerous’ or ‘crazy’. The only times hallucinations get media attention is if something terrible happens. I hate the trope in serial killer movies where the villains’ actions are attributed to hearing voices. A few people  who hear voices are violent, but the vast majority are normal people who live normal lives. It is unfair that the vast majority are characterised by the actions of the few.

I think this taboo extends to some people with mental health training. When I ask for help, I am met with mixed responses. One practitioner was visibly uncomfortable and refused to discuss hallucinations, instead focusing on symptoms she knew how to treat. This left me feeling I had to edit my experiences to make my practitioner comfortable. Clearly, she felt out of their depth, yet many of the techniques this practitioner taught are equally applicable to hallucinations. I have found distracting myself and being around others particularly helpful. I believe part of the reason there is a prejudice against hallucinations is a lack of understanding. When someone is depressed, most people can sympathise because they have felt sad and can imagine this experience amplified (although the accuracy of this imagination is highly questionable). When someone is hearing voices, most people have no reference point. Often the only experiences people have are horrendous stories in the media.

My friends and family have been supportive and non-judgemental about my experiences. I do think this is because I surround myself with open-minded people I can trust. I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about my experiences outside of safe spaces because I am scared of the response. I believe some people do not reach out for support because they do not want to be branded ‘crazy’ or ‘dangerous’, and they may not have informed and supportive people around them. People who hallucinate are equally worthy of support, and the surrounding stigma can make  it harder for people to recover.

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