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Understanding hallucinations

Hallucination is the perception of having seen, heard, touched or smelled something that was not there.

It is believed that mental processes that operate during hallucinations include memories and images that the brain has difficulty controlling.

According to Counselling Psychologist Jackie Gathu, hallucinations are common in people who have psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar.

“You perceive all these things that are not real but you don’t have to be struggling with mental illness to experience this,” she explains.

Some hallucinations may be caused by chemical abnormalities in the brain, dehydration, or sleep deprivation. In contrast, others may be caused by the influence of alcohol or drugs like marijuana, cocaine, kuber or cocaine.

Some traumatic experiences may cause hallucinations. Severe pain, sleep deprivation or high fever may also cause hallucinations.

Gathu explains that people who experience hallucinations will begin to think that their bodies are flying or floating while they are not. Some may smell or taste things that others cannot.

She also adds that some will feel movements like crawling bugs on their skin or feel like their internal organs are moving around. They may also see things that are not there or hear noises that only they can.

Gathu says that hallucinations are manageable when those who are present are gentle with the person experiencing hallucinations. She recommends speaking softly and slowly, and reassuring the person that you are with them.

“To help a person who is hallucinating, reduce the stimuli. For instance, if they feel something crawling on their skin, check if there is a sweater or a jacket that could be triggering that feeling. Switch off the television or radio and take away gadgets like phones.”

Further, she adds that it is advisable to remain sober while acknowledging their ‘reality’ and trying to understand what these hallucinations mean to them without getting sucked into their world.

Another way of helping them is by doing deep breathing exercises, letting them count at least three things they can hear, touch, smell, or see, and getting them out of the house for a walk.

Also, one may be given medication to manage the chemical imbalance in the brain.

Gathu says withdrawal from drug abuse may cause hallucinations and a person who is going through this should be taken for rehabilitation to help them recover from addiction.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy helps focus on changes in thinking and behaviour and helps some manage their symptoms better,” Gathu says, adding that psychosocial support and stress management also help the patient and family cope with hallucinations.

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