Auditory Hallucinations in Nonpsychotic Children: Diagnostic Considerations

P. Mertin and S. Hartwig, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, February 2004, 9, 1, 9–14.


BACKGROUND: Auditory hallucinations in childhood and adolescence are not necessarily an indication of psychosis, but are more frequently associated with a range of other mental health problems. Although not specifically linked to abuse as an aetiological factor, the literature reporting on hallucinations in children alludes to a range of family dysfunction and disruption.

METHOD: This study reports on the auditory hallucinations of 13 children referred to a community-based child and family mental health service exhibiting a variety of emotional and behavioural difficulties. The presence of the hallucinations was generally revealed during the course of the initial assessment.

RESULTS: None of the children were considered psychotic at initial presentation; however, all were experiencing high levels of stress and/or anxiety in their lives. Following the initial assessments children were given diagnoses ranging from generalised anxiety disorder, through adjustment disorder, to posttraumatic stress disorder. The hallucinations gradually disappeared over the course of therapy. Two case studies describe the hallucinations and family histories in more detail.

CONCLUSIONS: The present study adds further confirmation of the presence of auditory hallucinations in nonpsychotic children. The clinical presentation of the children in the present study indicates an association between hallucinations and high levels of stress and anxiety, suggesting that mental health professionals should enquire more routinely about auditory hallucinations, particularly with those children from abusive and violent backgrounds.