New warning signs of mental health disorders

21 Mar 2016
Healthy people who experience hallucinations or delusions are at higher risk of later mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.

Healthy people who have occasional hallucinations or delusions are more likely to experience mood and anxiety disorders, QBI researchers have found.

QBI clinical psychiatrist Professor John McGrath has previously determined that five per cent of the general population have experienced hallucinations—sights or sounds that no one else can hear—and about one per cent of the general population also have delusional, or false, beliefs. 

Now Professor McGrath and collaborators have discovered new links between hallucinations, delusions and the risk of having a common mental disorder like anxiety or depression.

The study involved data from 31,000 people in more than 19 countries.

Hallucinations a warning sign of later mental illness

“Once it had emerged that hallucinations were much more common than we thought—one in 20 healthy people will experience them—we wanted to see if they were a warning sign of what might be to come,” Professor McGrath said.

“It became clear that not only were you more at risk of psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, but also those very common disorders—anxiety, depression, eating disorders.

“But in a fascinating flip, we also found that hallucinations were more likely to first happen after a person develops one of those common disorders.

“This means we, as clinicians, need to rethink our approach to hallucinations and delusions.

“It’s becoming clear they have a much more subtle, yet more complex involvement in mental health issues than we’d recognised.

“Certainly, doctors need to keep an open mind, and to factor in these questions when we talk with people with any mental disorders.  

“And as researchers we will continue to drill further into the range of risk factors that come into play.”

The research, drawing on data from World Health Organisation World Mental Health surveys, is published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Professor McGrath is funded by the John Cade Fellowship. 

Watch a video of Professor McGrath explaining the research:

Media: QBI Communications,