Hearing Voices


Practical advice collected through the Hearing Voices Network that may be helpful for family, whanau, friends and caregivers.  This advice was written by Adrienne Giacon for the Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ. 





Hearing Voices is more common than people think.  It is a normal but unusual experience. However, it can be a frightening experience for both the hearer and those around them. The person hearing voices may become ill from not being able to cope with them. Family members may be unsure how to react. Research has shown that 70% of people who hear voices can relate the experience to some sort of trauma which has occurred in their lives. This can be physical or emotional trauma. Some research has also linked voice hearing with the use of recreational drugs such as Marijuana, P, LSD etc.  

 Voices often respond to what is happening around the voice hearer. Therefore, they can tell the hearer that the person they are speaking to is trying to harm them or that something bad will happen if they talk about their voices.

This can lead to feelings of fear and vulnerability, resulting in the person reacting differently to those around them or becoming isolated from others. It is important at this time that they have someone who will take the time to listen to them and to offer them the loving support they need to deal with their voices.




1.   It can be a great relief for a voice hearer to be able to share their experiences with another. Keeping it to themselves is often a burden and makes the voices more frightening to them. Just letting them share what they are experiencing can help. 


2.  Do not judge the person on the content of the voices. Often the voices can be mirrors of the persons own fears. Sometimes they can mirror their own negative feelings about themselves. Offer supportive, positive, practical advice and encouragement. It may be helpful to deal with the voice as if it is a real person. See our section on Coping Strategies.  


3.  Accept that the voices exist, that they are a very real experience for the person. Telling someone to "ignore the voices" doesn't usually work and may cause them merely to stop telling you about them, or deny they are still there.


4.   Encourage the voice hearer to keep a diary to notice when the voices are bad and when the voices are good.  Research by the HVN has shown that the voices are often linked with our own emotions.  Suggest that voice hearers write down what they do that  helps and what doesn’t help. It may be something simple like going for a walk, or calling a good friend, getting a good night’s sleep, not drinking too much coffee. 


5.  Do not feel "sorry" for them, or treat them as though they are different from everyone else. Often voice hearers find it hardest when those around them start treating them as though they are no longer normal (whatever normal is!) Instead empower them by encouraging them to set goals and to continue to do the things that they enjoy. 


6.   Encourage them to look after their health. A bad diet, stress, a lack of sleep, no exercise, isolation, can exasperate the voices.  


7.  Look after yourself. Make sure you have time to relax for yourself as well.


8.  Join a support group, so you can talk to others with similar experiences. SF- (Supporting Families in Mental Illness) offer support groups in New Zealand. 


9.  Learn as much as you can about hearing voices, the more you know, the more you will understand and can better help the voice hearer. 


10.  Learn to say "no". You must have your own boundaries as to what you are able to do. 


11. Offer your warmth and support and encouragement. See the positive aspects of the voice hearer. Applaud every little step forward they take. Let them know that they can get control over their voices. But it may take one little step at a time.  


12. If there is a Hearing Voices Network Support Group nearby (see under support groups), encourage them to attend. So they can have a wider support network other than you. 


13. Join the Hearing Voices Network, we are made up of Family, voice hearers, caregivers and mental health workers and concerned citizens. Helping us to better educate the public, and voice hearers about the experience. Reducing stigma, which in itself can be as debilitating as the voices themselves. 


14.  Please be patient with a voice hearer. Think of what it is like when you are trying to talk on the telephone and someone else is talking to you at the same time. It is very hard to listen to either one. It can make concentration difficult. Voice hearers are not stupid, or slow. Usually we are very intelligent. 


15.  Voice hearers can sometimes be made very drowsy and dopey by their medication. This is not a symptom of illness. 


16. If you can treat your family members voice hearing experiences without fear, it will reduce the fear and anxiety they feel about hearing voices.


Lastly Patience, Patience, Patience, and lashings of love.


You can find this article and further information about Hearing Voices on the Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ website







Caregivers are usually alert to the stresses of the people they help.  They are not, however, always as alert to the stress and fatigue that can slowly surface in their own lives and sometimes need reminding of normal stressors that can affect them.  Human beings can experience stress on a number of different levels ie phsysical (injuries, repetitive movements etc), mental (work stress, challenging situations), emotional (deaths, family separations, relationships, financial hardships, loss and grief) and chemical (medications, food additives, chemical in water and pollutants in the air).   Most of us would expect to experience some of these stresses in our day to day lives, however some carers may notice that their stress levels are increased dramatically at times.

Although a certain amount of stress is normal and even healthy, constant stress can have a dramatic effect on our health and wellbeing.  Under stress your brain activates your sympathetic nervous system, which initiates the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Essentially the message your brain receives is – “focus energy on your life preserving systems”,  so your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your muscles tighten and your breathing rate increases.  This takes energy away from less “essential” functions for short term survival such as digestion, reproduction, immunity or emotional wellbeing.  The human body was not designed to function under permanent or chronic states of stress and long term stress can have powerful effects on our bodies.   Symptoms of stress can include fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty falling or staying asleep, vague anxiety, poor memory, difficulty making decisions or concentrating, physical tension in your body, back aches, neck aches, digestive problems, increased blood pressure, succesceptibility to illness (colds, flu etc) feeling emotionally fragile, burnt out, higher risk of depression.   



MANAGING YOUR STRESS LEVELS:  Rather than eliminating the stress from our lives, which is not always possible, the important thing is to find ways to manage it effectively: Some ways to manage stress are to:

Eat well

avoid stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and nicotine

look after your body

exercise regularly, breath, meditate  (refer Carers radio free 5 minute meditations

 relax, rest and sleep

communicate (with friends, family or professional counsellors),

be organised - plan ahead to avoid unnecessary stress,

make time for fun. 

References:  Equilibrium Chiropractic “Stress”

Western BOP Mental Health Trust newsletter  August 09. 






Winning Ways to Maintain Well being


This year's theme for Mental Health Awareness week in October was Winning Ways to Wellbeing. Wellbeing is a concept that has two main elements: feeling good and functioning well. “Heke tipu oranga, he taonga tuku iho, ka pakanga ake, aue te aiotanga, te manawanui.  Persist in the battle and journey for wellbeing, it is a treasure handed down from the heavens, then comes confidence and peace.”


CONNECT Develop your relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours as these connections support you and enrich your life.


BE ACTIVE Physical activity helps you to feel good so find something that you enjoy and suits your ability.


TAKE NOTICE Be aware of the world around you and see the beauty in everyday and unusual things - reflecting on them helps you appreciate what matters to you.


LEARN Try something new or rediscover an old interest, or take on a new responsibility or challenge - learning makes you more confident and can be fun.


GIVE Do something for a friend or stranger and see yourself and your happiness as linked to the wider community.






David is a big man in his late thirties with an infectious laugh and an engaging personality.


He.s great fun to be with,. says his friend, Christine. Yet after moving to the country town where David lives, she was warned that he had schizophrenia. She couldn.t believe it. ‘


Here was this man who was cool, calm, articulate, educated, easy to talk to. He was totally together. I thought it was simply not true.‘


Christine admits to knowing nothing about schizophrenia at the time, associating it with ‘homeless people on the street clutching bottles in paper bags’. The next time she and David met he told her that yes – he did have schizophrenia and was famous in his home town for all the wrong reasons. ‘I had a very public psychosis in a community where everyone knows everyone,‘ he says.


David was diagnosed with schizophrenia ten years ago. A graduate of the University of Melbourne, he experienced his first episode of the illness in the early stages of a successful engineering career. But however severe his symptoms, he knew what it was like to live without psychosis and was determined to get his life back.


Christine believes one of the reasons why David’s recovery is so successful is that he made this decision to get back to living in reality. ‘It hasn’t been easy for him but he’s very stubborn,’ she says. ‘There’s also the fact that – as he points out – it’s easier to live in madness than in reality.‘


 David measures his slow journey to recovery from a five-day outdoor activity program run by Out Doors Inc, an innovative recreational agency for people affected by mental illness. ‘The effect of that week was profound,’ he says.


Out Doors Inc was one of many activities David became involved with over the years, during which time he has gained insight into the process of recovery from mental illness, which he acknowledges is inevitably different for each individual. He captures his insights in what he calls ‘the 80:20 Rule’.


‘When I looked at the hardships my mental illness caused me, only 20% were caused by symptoms – that is, hearing voices, delusional thinking and the myriad of hallucinations.‘


 ‘The majority of the negative impact on my life, that is 80%, came from the damage caused to my world, my sense of self and my relationship to the community. My everyday life was turned upside down and this is what caused most of the pain.


Among the hardships David experienced were low self-esteem and confidence, anxiety, lack of money, social isolation, being overweight, a broken career, and low standing in a community that knew him and his family well.The importance of David’s 80:20 Rule, he says, is that it puts the community in the powerful position of making a difference in the lives of the mentally ill. There are many ways in which ordinary people can support those affected, such as including them in social activities, offering friendship and, importantly, employing them if possible. ‘Never underestimate the positive impact of a single act of kindness,’ David says.


David now works as a Recovery Mentor for a PHaMs (Personal Helpers and Mentors) Program on the NSW-Victorian border. With what he has learned from his own experience of mental illness, David now mentors others and helps link them in to their own communities and support services. This sometimes involves driving three hours a day with a colleague, visiting people who live far out of town.


David does not define recovery as being entirely symptom free, but as being the best he can be at any time. It’s a good principle in life for anyone, he says.

There are still times when he experiences depression and even hallucinations, but his medication generally works well for him, as does his own understanding of his illness. The support of family and friends has also been crucial.


Until David told her, Christine was unaware of the extent of David’s symptoms, including his battles with depression. ‘He does this very discreetly,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t bring people down. Even when he has psychotic symptoms he still functions well. He has a high level of awareness and understanding.’


David brings a deep compassion to his work and a particular understanding of country people. He was brought up in Victoria’s High Country where its men are often defined as hard working, practical and proud. Its landscape nurtured David physically and spiritually, but local acceptance and understanding of people with mental illness can still be poor.


‘Imagine how a rural male knowing little of mental illness is likely to react if he becomes mentally unwell,’ David says. ‘Without help, what you have then is a person in pain who is isolated and disconnected from themselves and the community. They would be filled with confusion and fear, their shame would be crippling.‘


David has been in that place himself and knows it is possible to move on. He recently bought himself a good dirt bike to ride on the farm where he grew up. It’s the biggest thrill in his life right now. Like the long drive over the mountain he makes every week to help others, it’s a great symbol of a man loving his connection to the bush, and to his life.

On This Page:


Dual Diagnosis


After a Suicide Attempt Brochure


About Hearing Voices


Are You Stressed?


Winning Ways to Maintain Well-being



Website link for adult siblings:


Mental illness and addiction/s

This website addresses the strong relationship between substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders.


View Brochure:

‘After a suicide attempt: Information for families whanau, friends and support networks’.


Link to SFNZ Resources

SF Nelson

Supporting Families in Mental Illness