Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Hallucinations & delusions

Here, people talk about what it's like to experience symptoms associated with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and psychosis. Two types of symptoms are associated with schizophrenia: so-called 'positive' symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, disturbed thinking and paranoia, and 'negative' symptoms, including tiredness, loss of concentration, lack of energy and motivation, few facial movements and flat emotions. Not everyone who has a particular condition will experience all the symptoms associated with that condition. This summary focuses on positive symptoms; negative symptoms are discussed elsewhere (see 'Anxiety, negativity, mania & loss of energy'). People with depression and other conditions may also experience some of the symptoms discussed here. 

Hallucinations (including hearing voices)
Many people talked about experiencing hallucinations: hallucinations are something that you hear, smell, feel or see - when there isn't anything or anyone there to explain where it came from. As one man put it, “my senses misfunction”. Most of the people who described hallucinations had been diagnosed with some form of schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder. A few had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and panic attacks. 

What's it like to hear voices?
People said hearing voices was like: “a song that keeps on coming into your head”, “it's not like it's your own thought, it's as if something has been saying something to you”, “I could hear it from within me like my own spirit saying something to me”, and “it's like my own kind of thinking but it sounds like it's outside of my head”. One woman, who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, said she heard, “funny voices and noises” and heard “things which nobody is speaking”. 

Voices can be a constant presence, and may say positive, negative or neutral things, or even give orders to the voice-hearer. Voices may even tell the individual to hurt themselves (or others) and some people had done so.

People talked about hearing different types of voices with different personalities and genders. Some thought they heard their own inner voice, others thought it was the voice of someone else - for example their mother's voice, or the voice of God. Some people thought that the television or radio was talking to them. Whilst for many hearing voices had become part of life, the experience could still be as frightening and confusing as the first time they heard them. Some people didn't realise it was unusual to hear voices (see 'Onset of mental health problems'). One woman was 14 when she started hearing voices. She was so scared she attempted suicide and developed depression; another woman found it exciting, not frightening. 

For most people, prescribed medication controlled or reduced the voices (see 'Prescribed medication for mental health problems and their side effects'). Some people who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, however, did not hear voices.

What's it like to see things that aren't there?
People diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder talked about seeing things that weren't 'really' there, including lights and shadows, people, demons and animals. One woman said letters in signs turned into messages for her. Those who had other diagnoses talked about seeing zigzags, stars, smoke, and one woman said she saw images in her mind of graves, sex and naked men, “like a film coming in your brain”.

These visual hallucinations seem very real to people, and can be very frightening or distressing, affecting their sleep and other behaviour, especially if they believe the person or thing they 'see' is trying to harm them. 

One woman said that seeing “creepy crawlies” that weren't there was sometimes “really funny” and annoying at other times, including when she's walking, driving or reading. One man felt guilty about what he'd seen. 

What is it like to have other kinds of hallucinations?
People also described feeling as though they were being touched, grabbed, pushed or punched by something that wasn't there [see Lorenz above].

Delusions, paranoia and disturbed thinking

What is it like to experience delusions and feelings of paranoia?
Delusions are beliefs that aren't based on reality or explained by someone's usual cultural or religious beliefs. A few people talked about having delusions including believing they were God or Jesus, that the TV or radio was talking to them or giving them special messages, believing that aliens were coming to earth, feeling as though they were being watched or followed, or having plans for world domination. One man felt people were “taking thoughts away from me”.

Delusions or paranoia may sometimes have their roots in reality. One woman's belief that she was being watched turned out to be true. Another made a series of accusations about his local mental health trust and said, “They wanted to punish me for making these accusations by saying they're delusions”.

What is it like to have disturbed thinking?
People also described experiencing disturbed thinking, including having “weird” thoughts or disorganised, “muddled” thinking. Other people described having intrusive thoughts, that is, thoughts that are involuntary and unwelcome.

See 'What else helps' to find out more about how people managed their symptoms.

Last reviewed September 2018.

Last updated June 2015.


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