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Hallucinations - Do I Need Help?

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Updated November 10, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Sometimes people who have deeply disturbing experiences of seeing or hearing things that aren't really there—often terrifying things—resist speaking about them, resist seeking treatment, or need validation before they do anything about the problem. The following three stories were sent to me by readers who each asked questions at the end. I've done my best to answer them.

TheMagdalen: I've never told anyone this before

I am so relieved to read others' stories, because I never knew so many people had these experiences. I've been afraid to tell anyone about my own, for fear of being considered "insane."

I've heard my voice being called, felt my head being rubbed, have had music play, and heard the phone ring when no one else heard it. I've felt paralyzed in bed, heard people talking and chattering around me, and felt my arm twisting painfully—but I couldn't scream or move. I've also seen odd, bright lights, shimmering walls, and strange swirling currents in the room.

I've seen the air flicker as if a force field had been disturbed, and I've seen someone's face morph and distort while we were speaking. I saw a green type of energy pour into my husband's head, and down his face and chest; when I touched it, it went up my own hand and arm. I was afraid to tell him. I get rushes of tingling all through me, like I'm being electrified. It feels very ecstatic.

I heard the voice say, "You are not alone, I am always with you."

Am I really ill? Am I in need of help?

Answer: Only a doctor can determine if you are really ill, but yes, you are in need of help. There are many conditions that can cause hallucinations. Some of these are:

Based on what you've described, you should also speak to a doctor about the possibility of sleep paralysis.

You are not "insane." As you've seen, plenty of people with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses experience hallucinations. Whatever the cause/s of your experiences may be, they are symptoms of an illness that needs to be treated.

Karoheart: Am I the only one?

I often feel like I'm the only one who experiences these things, so I don't talk about them. I don't want people to think I'm crazy—even my psychiatrist. Now that's crazy!

Has anyone else experienced sounds to be much louder than they really are? This particularly happens at night, when I'm tired. A laugh, a sneeze, or a word, for example, will be so startlingly loud that it feels like it's piercing my eardrums.

I've been under a lot of stress lately. I've thought I heard my name being called in an empty room; I've heard songs playing when there was nothing on; and I've heard what I thought was static, with music and talking, as if someone was rapidly changing radio stations—though nothing was actually on. As I'm typing, I'm realizing these are probably hallucinations. Since my depression isn't debilitating at the moment, I think my illness is under control.

I also take medication for ADD. Does anyone else have trouble focusing at work? Is this part of my bipolar or ADD?

Answers: First off, many people have the experience of sounds seeming louder at night. Since you have bipolar disorder, hallucinations are possible, and they don't mean you're "crazy." If they're due to your bipolar disorder, they're simply a part of your illness, and there is no reason not to tell your psychiatrist.

Difficulty focusing at work could certainly be part of your ADD or bipolar - or both. See:

Nika: Hallucinations? Is It Bipolar or Worse?

I'm afraid to sleep at night because I fear someone is watching me—something dark, like the devil. When I look in the mirror and see myself, I see an evil little girl with a scary smile, but I know it's just me.

Sometimes I hear people calling my name. I think everyone is always talking about me. When I walk down the street, I often feel there's someone following me, so I walk faster or start to run. Sometimes I hear music, but it's a creepy, scary, movie kind of music. Sometimes it looks almost like there's someone in the room with me, but when I turn around, there's only me. I'm afraid.

Someone told her doctor about my anxiety and suicidal and self-harming thoughts, and he told her I might be bipolar. Is this possible?

Answer: While the symptoms you've described may indicate bipolar disorder, that's only one possibility. The feeling of being watched, the belief that people are always talking about you, and the sense of being stalked could indicate delusions. You also describe experiences that could be auditory and visual hallucinations.

Since you're having these experiences along with thoughts of suicide and self-injury, it's imperative that you seek medical help as soon as possible. If you can't get psychiatric help, see your medical doctor. If you feel you're in immediate danger of suicide or serious self-harm, go to the nearest emergency room.

Do You Need Help?

If you're experiencing hallucinations for any reason, you need help. If you are already seeing a mental health professional, you must speak up about them, or you can't obtain proper treatment. If you are not, the best place to start is your medical doctor. Hallucinations can be a symptom of an underlying physical illness, or of a mental illness. In either case, the longer you wait to seek help, the more difficult your condition may be to treat.

If you've had any kind of experiences similar to those above, and have any of the same questions, my answer to you is seek treatment as soon as you can.

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