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Hearing voices while studying

Home | Living with Voices | Hearing voices at work or while studying | Hearing voices while studying

“It was after undergoing spinal surgery, and when I felt that I was going down a black hole with my doctorate, that I began to hear distressing voices that seemed to come from outside my head. I was embarrassed by the things that the voices were saying to me, so I didn’t tell anyone. I also thought that if I told a doctor, I would be sent to a psychiatric hospital. So, instead of seeking help, I dropped out of university.”

Emily Knoll

What’s it like to hear voices while you’re studying?

“It was after undergoing spinal surgery, and when I felt that I was going down a black hole with my doctorate, that I began to hear distressing voices that seemed to come from outside my head. I was embarrassed by the things that the voices were saying to me, so I didn’t tell anyone. I also thought that if I told a doctor, I would be sent to a psychiatric hospital. So, instead of seeking help, I dropped out of university.”

Emily Knoll

Hearing voices when you’re at school, college or university, can bring lots of different challenges – for voice-hearers of all ages and backgrounds.

Some voices can make it difficult for voice-hearers to concentrate in class or lectures, or focus on reading, absorb information, or perform under the pressure of exams. Some voices may be louder, more distracting or difficult in certain spaces, such as libraries, lecture halls or busy social areas. And some voices can make it hard for students to navigate the competing demands of tight deadlines, socialising, individual or group work.

For young people leaving home for University, voices may be especially difficult. Voices can become more overwhelming during periods of transition, times of high stress, sleeplessness, insecurity or financial difficulties. Critical or belittling voices, undermining a young person’s self-esteem or confidence, can also affect the way that students see themselves, or have a detrimental impact on their abilities, making it difficult for them to achieve their academic potential or causing some to postpone or discontinue their studies.

While hearing voices can be challenging while studying, some voices can be helpful. Some voice-hearers find their voices encourage them with their work, reassure them that they’re doing the best that they can, and help them to make friends or work more effectively in groups. For example:

I sometimes recall stuff I am learning to the voices. They usually learn the stuff faster than I can and can occasionally throw me a hint.

Gina*

Universities, schools and colleges have policies and procedures in place to support students who are struggling. These range from informal emotional support to formalized options such as mentoring, counselling or psychotherapy, as well as a range of practical assistance or financial support. Some universities have also started Hearing Voices groups for students.

You can find out about what is available in your institution by contacting student support servicesquestion icon or your University counselling team. Suggestions on how to open up conversations about voices with teachers or lecturers, as well as reflections from people who have done this themselves, is available here.

Managing voices while studying

As with managing voices in the work place, voice-hearers use a variety of different strategies in order to cope with their experiences in the classroom or lecture theatre, while doing homework, essays or assignments and revising for exams. These may include stress management techniques, choosing where to study carefully, talking back to the voices, drawing boundaries with them or ignoring them completely.

Explore the personal accounts below or see Coping with Voices for more ideas.

Personal reflections

Explore personal experiences and reflections on coping with voices while studying.

Find out more

Read

Emily Knoll (2018). Learning to live with hearing voices. BMJ – A short article in which Emily Knoll reflects on her experience of hearing voices during her doctorate.

Rachel Waddingham (2015). The enemy within: People who hear voices are being encouraged to talk back. The Independent – Contains Rachel’s account of hearing voices as a student.

Watch

Eleanor Longden (2013). The Voices in My Head.  TED – Eleanor’s 2013 TED talk shares her experience of hearing voices during her University studies.

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