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What causes repetitive irrational fear of getting serious mental illness in a person?

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Posted on Tue, 17 Mar 2015
Question: Hello, I have a question that perhaps you can help me with. A while ago I discovered that my aunt had been diagnosed with a scary mental illness (Schizophrenia) when she was younger, around 19. Ever since I found this out, I have developed a very, very deep and overwhelming fear/ phobia of inheriting this illness. I realize it's an irrational fear, and most likely I am okay however I can't seem to shake the worry that I'm at an increased risk of developing some type of illness like she did due to genetics (and various life experiences, such as being a very stupid and experimental youth). I am currently a 30 year old woman, so I hope I am out of the 'at-risk' age.

One of my huge fears involves an irrational worry about auditory hallucinations. I've always been told that when people 'hear' 'voices' they hear them as if someone is really talking to them like as if a conversation. They actually 'hear' the voice with their ears as if someone is speaking to them in the room - but no one is there. Recently, I was reading an article online and it was mentioned that people have 'auditory hallucinations' in their head (like thoughts?) which frankly, terrifies me to no end. The article mentioned that some people experience auditory hallucinations as if their 'inner speech' has gone awry and they have lost control of it. After reading this article, my anxiety went into overdrive. I've since stopped reading articles about the illness online because I realize it feeds my anxiety, but I guess I just wanted to reach out to a mental health expert for your opinion on auditory hallucinations and the experience of them.

I've always thought that if I was going to experience hallucinations, I would 'hear' them like someone was physically speaking to me from somewhere in the room or from an inanimate object in my environment. Am I correct in this assumption? My fear of this is so huge, that when I read the scary online article my mind started imaging what this internal experience would be like and my anxiety got really bad.

Thank you very much for any info you can provide! I greatly appreciate it.
doctor
Answered by Dr. Seikhoo Bishnoi (29 minutes later)
Brief Answer:
These symptom are occurring due to health anxiety

Detailed Answer:
Hello thanks for asking from HCM for your health related queries

I can understand your problem. After reading your problem I can make a provisional diagnosis of your symptoms. The symptoms like repetitive irrational fear of getting serious mental illness are occurring probably due to severe health anxiety. Even you are aware of the fact that these ideas are not correct still you cant control these abnormal fear about mental illness. So for proper treatment you should visit a psychiatrist.

Reassurance is best treatment for such health anxiety or hypochondriasis. First of all I would like to tell you that Schizophrenia has multifactorial inheritance and no single has been found that can predict sure inheritance of this disease. Even if your aunt has Schizophrenia the risk of getting illness in you is very very low. Schizophrenia occurs due to genetic, environmental, psychological factors. All factors collectively increase the risk. So be assured even she has Schizophrenia even then you are safe.

Second thing is your age. Usually in females Schizophrenia develops around 15-25 years of age and the risk reduces with advancing age. This has been supported by a number of studies. You are 30 and have no symptoms so no risk.

You will not develop hallucinations. Hallucinations are perceptual disorders in which individuals start perceiving without stimulus for example in case of auditory hallucinations individuals start hearing voices without real stimulus. The voices appears to be coming from outside and are substantial. These appears as real voices. Hearing voices doesn't mean that an individual will develop Schizophrenia, even in drug intoxication or in severe anxiety individuals may hear voices like hallucinations. So no need to fear from getting a hallucinations. Your fear of getting illness is totally irrational and you should try to relax yourself.

Due to reading articles online (most of which are not written by proper professionals or are not supported by studies) you have developed experiencing the symptoms probably, but this is occurring due to anxiety only. Hallucinations of schizophrenia doesn't occur like that. You are aware of your distress which further strengthens our diagnosis. Patients of Schizophrenia does't seek treatment by own in most of the times.

So please be assured you will not develop this illness, and yes you have health anxiety and it should not be overlooked.

Thanks, I hope this helps you. Please don't hesitate to ask again for more doubts.

Take care
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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Follow up: Dr. Seikhoo Bishnoi (48 minutes later)
Hello Dr. Bishnoi, thank you very much for your prompt response! I appreciate your reply, and the information you provided is very detailed. I do agree with your comment, when you said I am experiencing Health Anxiety. This is definitely true and it is very hard to deal with. I constantly doubt myself and what I feel, it's a very emotionally draining experience.

My health anxiety about Schizophrenia first appeared when I was 23 years old, and then faded away for a period of 6 years. I thought I had beaten it, but now my anxiety has reappeared. Sometimes I scare myself thinking that perhaps I am in the prodrome for Schizophrenia, but I try and reassure myself that if I was going to get this illness I would have developed it when I was younger. It’s a bit of a daily battle reassuring myself, so I will ask my doctor to refer me to a psychiatrist for health anxiety treatment. Thank you for the suggestion.

It is a relief for me to read that hallucinations would be experienced as voices or sounds in my environment, external to me. When I read that article, about how people with Schizophrenia may experience auditory hallucinations as internal ‘thoughts’, I had a jolt of fear because I didn’t know that this was possible. I started ruminating on this and scaring myself. The article was apparently written by a medical doctor, but I don’t believe it was a psychiatrist so hopefully it is false information.

I do not currently hear any voices or odd sounds right now from outside myself - I was mostly concerned with imagining internal things after I read that scary article online. Everyone else I have asked (family and friends) also say that hallucinations would be in my environment, and would sound like either people talking to me, or music, a radio or other various sounds. Your response has helped me believe them.
Dr. Bishnoi, I have a super quick follow up question that I was thinking of.

A lot of my current anxiety about auditory hallucinations is because after I read that scary article, I thought to myself “what would that experience of hearing an internal hallucination be like?” And then immediately, my mind conjured up a scary word. Every time I tried to relax, I felt as if my anxiety would kick in and cycle on this scary worry and I would imagine the scary word-thought again. I tried to reassure myself that it’s just my imagination and that I’m scaring myself for no reason, but I became worried that maybe this was the start of psychotic, schizophrenic hallucinations. I now realize that schizophrenics hear external, 'outside the body' hallucinations but I suppose I'm a little worried that me, imagining a scary word counted as a hallucination? I hope this makes sense, I'm still just a little worried about this and felt I should include this follow up question. Thank you very much for your assistance!

Thank you very much for your help! I appreciate the reassurance :)
doctor
Answered by Dr. Seikhoo Bishnoi (7 hours later)
Brief Answer:
"THESE SYMPTOMS ARE CERTAINLY NOT HALLUCINATIONS"

Detailed Answer:
Hello thanks for asking a follow up

These symptoms that feelings that what would that experience of hallucination be like and then followed by thinking a scary word and then inability to reassure yourself etc are part of healthy anxiety. Health anxiety or Hypochondriasis are related to other anxiety disorders and a lot of individuals with this anxiety also show obsessive thinkings and ruminations.

The thinking about hallucination and then anxiety and scary word could be obsessive thinking due to anxiety. Obsessive thinkings are intrusive, repetitive words that dominate the mind and persist even individuals tries to control these thought. Individuals are aware of the fact that these are purposeless still they couldn't control them. Though I am not saying that this is due to OCD but some anxiety of health got mixed up with these thought.

This is not hallucination and you cant develop schizophrenia at your age and considering your history in question.

So no need to fear and visit a psychiatrist for drug therapy.

Thanks, take care. Please don't hesitate to ask again for more doubts.
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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Dr. Seikhoo Bishnoi

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Practicing since :2007

Answered : 5192 Questions

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What causes repetitive irrational fear of getting serious mental illness in a person?

Brief Answer: These symptom are occurring due to health anxiety Detailed Answer: Hello thanks for asking from HCM for your health related queries I can understand your problem. After reading your problem I can make a provisional diagnosis of your symptoms. The symptoms like repetitive irrational fear of getting serious mental illness are occurring probably due to severe health anxiety. Even you are aware of the fact that these ideas are not correct still you cant control these abnormal fear about mental illness. So for proper treatment you should visit a psychiatrist. Reassurance is best treatment for such health anxiety or hypochondriasis. First of all I would like to tell you that Schizophrenia has multifactorial inheritance and no single has been found that can predict sure inheritance of this disease. Even if your aunt has Schizophrenia the risk of getting illness in you is very very low. Schizophrenia occurs due to genetic, environmental, psychological factors. All factors collectively increase the risk. So be assured even she has Schizophrenia even then you are safe. Second thing is your age. Usually in females Schizophrenia develops around 15-25 years of age and the risk reduces with advancing age. This has been supported by a number of studies. You are 30 and have no symptoms so no risk. You will not develop hallucinations. Hallucinations are perceptual disorders in which individuals start perceiving without stimulus for example in case of auditory hallucinations individuals start hearing voices without real stimulus. The voices appears to be coming from outside and are substantial. These appears as real voices. Hearing voices doesn't mean that an individual will develop Schizophrenia, even in drug intoxication or in severe anxiety individuals may hear voices like hallucinations. So no need to fear from getting a hallucinations. Your fear of getting illness is totally irrational and you should try to relax yourself. Due to reading articles online (most of which are not written by proper professionals or are not supported by studies) you have developed experiencing the symptoms probably, but this is occurring due to anxiety only. Hallucinations of schizophrenia doesn't occur like that. You are aware of your distress which further strengthens our diagnosis. Patients of Schizophrenia does't seek treatment by own in most of the times. So please be assured you will not develop this illness, and yes you have health anxiety and it should not be overlooked. Thanks, I hope this helps you. Please don't hesitate to ask again for more doubts. Take care