More than 20 per cent of children aged 11-13 could be hearing voices in their head, a new study by scientists and psychiatrists in Ireland has found.

Researchers carried out psychiatric assessments of almost 2,500 children aged between 11 and 16, and found that between 21 and 23 per cent of 11-13 year olds had heard a voice of some kind in their head.

However, they also found that most auditory hallucinations stopped with age - and only seven per cent of 13-16 year olds reported hearing voices. Most of those - almost 80 per cent - were found to have a further psychological problem.

Lead researcher Dr Ian Kelleher, from the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RSCI) said: "We found that auditory hallucinations were common even in children as young as 11 years old. Auditory hallucinations can vary from hearing an isolated sentence now and then, to hearing 'conversations' between two or more people lasting for a several minutes.

"It may present itself like screaming or shouting, and other times it could sound like whispers or murmurs. It varies greatly from child to child, and frequency can be once a month to once every day.

"For many children, these experiences appear to represent a 'blip' on the radar that does not turn out to signify any underlying or undiagnosed problem. However, for the other children, these symptoms turned out to be a warning sign of serious underlying psychiatric illness, including clinical depression and behavioural disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Some older children with auditory hallucinations had two or more disorders. This finding is important because if a child reports auditory hallucinations it should prompt their treating doctor to consider that the child may have more than one diagnosis."

The findings are published in the online edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Story posted by Robert Mair on 12/04/2012