Auditory or visual hallucinations among psychologically healthy people may not be as rare as generally believed, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. An international team of brain experts examined World Health Organization survey data collected from some 31,000 people across 18 countries and determined that 5.8 percent of responders had some kind of “psychotic experience.”
“We used to think that only people with psychosis heard voices or had delusions,” Queensland Brain Institute’s John McGrath said in a statement, “but now we know that otherwise healthy, high-functioning people also report these experiences.”
Any of the responders whose hallucinations may have been triggered from dreaming or drugs were omitted along with respondents actively seeking mental help. The scientists acknowledged, however, that such events are “prone to underreporting.” It’s natural that some people avoid talking about hallucinations out of a fear they’ll sound crazy, but the study should be a reassurance that, in most cases, people are OK.
In fact, given that the brain has roughly 86 billion neurons firing away — and many more glia and other cells — it’s almost surprising that there aren’t more neurological hiccups. That being said, not all hallucinations are sunshine and double rainbows. “People should be reassured that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with them if it happens once or twice,” McGrath said, “but if people are having regular experiences, we recommend that they seek help.”