Psychosocial characteristics differentiate non-distressing and distressing voices in 10,346 adolescents
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Adolescents hearing non-existent voices may be at risk for psychosis, but the prevalence of voice-hearing (VH) in the general population complicates clinical interpretations. Differentiating between VH with and without distress may aid treatment decisions in psychosis services, but understanding the differences between these two phenomena as they present in the normal adolescent population is necessary to validate this differentiation. The present study compared VH with and without distress in 10,346 adolescents in relation to clinical characteristics, known risk factors, predictors and psychosocial moderators of psychosis. A population-based cohort of Norwegian 16–19 years old adolescents completed a comprehensive web-based questionnaire, including two questions from the extended Launay-Slade Hallucinations Scale: (1) I often hear a voice speaking my thoughts aloud and (2) I have been troubled by hearing voices in my head. Adolescents reporting no VH, non-distressing VH or distressing VH were compared on 14 psychosocial and clinical variables. A multinomial regression model showed that non-disturbing voices were predicted by better school grades, social dysfunction, distractibility, affective symptoms and experience of trauma, while the disturbing voices were predicted by the experience of bullying and trauma, perceived negative self-worth and self-efficacy, less family support, dysregulation of activation, distractibility, self-harm and anxiety. Hearing voices without distress versus being distressed by the voices is related to different constellations of psychosocial variables, suggesting that they represent two separate groups of adolescents. The findings validate the emphasis on distress in clinical practice.