Schizophrenia: What It’s Like to Hear Voices
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People with schizophrenia often have a hard time explaining what it’s like to hear voices.
“There’s a huge range of voice hearing experiences,” says Nev Jones, postdoctoral fellow in anthropology at Stanford University who was treated for her psychotic symptoms in 2007.
There can be “voices that are more thought-like,” says Jones, “voices that sound like non-human entities, voices that are perceived as the direct communication of a message, rather than something you’re actually hearing.”
Voices aren’t always voices, either. They can sound more like a murmur, a rustle or a beeping.
But when a voice is a recognizable voice, more than often, it’s not very nice. “It’s not like wearing an iPod”, says the Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrman. “It’s like being surrounded by a gang of bullies.”
Pat Deegan, a Massachusetts-based consultant who has schizophrenia, created this simulation to help others understand what it’s like to experience vocal hallucinations.
The simulation begins with loud music; a couple minutes later it transitions to strange, sometimes inaudible voices. “Do you have any idea how you’ve messed up?” they taunt.
She encourages people to listen to it while trying to carry out basic tasks, like grocery shopping.
(In California, PREP offers mental health services to young people and their families. Schizophrenia.com offers a resource page that includes other states. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has chapters in every state and offers support to families. The young people in this story received help at Kickstart, in San Diego.)
Here are a few of the people I’ve met over the last few months I’ve spent reporting on young people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, or experienced symptoms that seemed, possibly, pre-schizophrenic.
Efrain Pacheco is 21 and lives in San Diego. He can’t remember exactly when the voices began, in part because he thought everyone heard them.
Today he takes an anti-psychotic drug, Risperdal, which has mostly quieted them. Sometimes he misses them, he says.
Frankie Moreno is 25, and also lives in San Diego. About four years ago, his reality started to shift. At first, he heard “random noises,” like the sound of running on the roof. The sounds evolved into two voices, speaking just out of range of hearing.
Over time, the voices got louder and more threatening, until one night, they told him to hurt himself.
We profiled Reagan in the first story in this series. She’s 23 and lives in Simi Valley. Her hallucinations were visual, not auditory.
She knew they couldn’t be real, but they still terrified her.
Will Hall was in his 20s when the film The Matrix came out. He was obsessed with it, and thought it had been written for him, specifically. He heard voices telling him that he had caused the Columbine massacre.
He found that as he listened to the voices, and tried to understand where they were coming from, the voices became kinder and more supportive.
This last one is Andrea Vallejo (left), who works for a program in San Diego called Kickstart, which treats kids in the very earliest stages of schizophrenia. I met her when she and other Kickstart staff had taken a bunch of clients, between 10 and 25 years old, to fly kites at San Diego’s Seaport Village.
Vallejo’s job is to help kids stay in school, connected to friends and family. The slide into isolation can make everything, including auditory and visual hallucinations, much worse.