Hallucinations in the movies tend to be about chaos, violence and mental distress

Hallucinations in the movies tend to be about chaos, violence and mental distress

But they can be positive too

Hallucinations are often depicted in the movies as terrifying experiences. Think Jake Gyllenhaal seeing a monstrous rabbit in Donnie Darko, Leonardo DiCaprio experiencing the torture of Shutter Island, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.

Each character experiences some form of psychological distress. Scenes connect to, or even explain, a decline into chaos and violence.

Hallucinations can also occur in people without any underlying medical conditions. For example, some people may experience hallucinations during times of extreme distress or grief.

Environmental factors such as sleep deprivation can cause a range of perceptual disturbances, including visual and auditory hallucinations. Sensory deprivation, such as being placed in a soundproof room, can also cause hallucinations.

But still, the common image that hallucinations are connected only to mental health issues persists.

Hallucinations can be frightening, but not always

Hallucinations can be frightening for people, and their families. And the stigma and misconceptions surrounding hallucinations can have a significant impact on someone who experiences them.

People who have hallucinations may be afraid or embarrassed of being considered “bizarre” or “unsafe”, and therefore may avoid seeking help.

But hallucinations are not always scary or disturbing. Some hallucinations can be neutral or even pleasant. People have been sharing on social media their positive and empowering experience of hallucinations. In the example below, we see one person’s positive experience of hearing voices. Yet we rarely see such depictions of hallucinations in the movies.

How to support someone having hallucinations

If you are with someone who is having hallucinations, particularly if these are new or distressing for them, here are several ways you can support them:

  • ask the person if they want to talk about what they are experiencing and listen to them without judgment: “I cannot hear what you are hearing, can you tell me about it?”

  • listen. Don’t argue or blame. Acknowledge that hallucinations are real to the person, even if they are seemingly unusual and not based in reality: “I cannot see what you see, but I do understand you see it.”

  • empathise with how the person feels about their experiences. “I cannot feel or taste it, but I can imagine it would be a difficult experience. I can see how much it is concerning you.”

  • support someone to seek care. Persistent or distressing hallucinations should always be evaluated by a qualified health professional. Establishing potential causes is important: “I cannot hear it like you, but let’s talk to a health professional about it. They can help us understand what might be happening.”

  • encourage the person to reach out to their peers as well as to hearing voices groups for ongoing support.

We’d like to acknowledge Tim Heffernan, Deputy Commissioner of the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales, who contributed to this article.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency dial 000.The Conversation

Christopher Patterson, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing, University of Wollongong and Nicholas Procter, Professor and Chair: Mental Health Nursing, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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