A psychiatric study has shown that a fifth of children aged 11 to 13 hear voices in their head.
Researchers in Ireland have found that hearing voices, known as auditory hallucinations, can affect more than 20 per cent of young adolescents. In most cases the auditory hallucinations stop with time, but children who continue to hear voices could be at risk of mental illness or behavioural disorders.
Auditory hallucinations can vary from hearing an occasional isolated sentence to hearing conversations between two or more people lasting for several minutes. Many people hear voices but never find them a problem or need to seek help from mental health services.
Nearly 2,500 children aged between 11 and 16 were assessed four times for the latest study, which was funded by the Health Research Board and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The researchers discovered that auditory hallucination has an impact on 21 per cent to 23 per cent of children aged between 11 and 13 in Ireland. More than half of those who heard voices were also found to have a non-psychotic psychiatric disorder such as depression after clinical assessment.
Whilst just 7 per cent of older adolescents aged 13 to 16 reported hearing voices, almost 80 per cent of those who did had a diagnosable psychological condition. Lead researcher Dr Ian Kelleher, from the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RSCI), said:
''We found that auditory hallucinations were common even in children as young as 11 years old."
''For many children, these experiences appear to represent a 'blip' on the radar that does not turn out to signify any underlying or undiagnosed problem. However, for the other children, these symptoms turned out to be a warning sign of serious underlying psychiatric illness, including clinical depression and behavioural disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
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