The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

October 8, 2013

Seeing past mental illness


“I didn’t think I’d find it so disturbing,” said Andrew. “It’s what they call auditory hallucinations. I was totally caught off guard.”

Don described multiple “stations” where volunteers like he or Andrew play the part of an emergency room psychiatrist, a therapist or a social worker asking questions. Don typically asks participants to put together a small puzzle. The “psychiatrist” asks questions to determine the patient’s mental state.

“But while they’re doing [the stations], they’ve hearing voices; they’ve got headsets on,” said Andrew.

So the therapist may be asking a participant to write some answers down, and a sudden voice starts telling the participant how worthless they are, that they’re doing the project wrong, that they’re too stupid to understand.

“It’s very authentic,” said Don. “With the voices you hear in the headphones, you can experience what a voice-hearer hears.”

Since it’s coming from headsets, it should be obviously “fake,” an advantage a “voice hearer” does not have. But it does draw one’s attention away from the task at hand at times. Especially the whispering. For sufferers from this particular brain disorder, the volunteers say, it’s easy to be distracted because it’s like someone walked up behind you to tell you something.

“I could not do any of the tasks,” said Andrew, “and I didn’t have to go through eight stations to figure that out. I recommend it — but it’s very disturbing.”

Don said people that experience the program are less likely to tell someone with a mental illness that they should just calm down, ignore the voices, stop thinking that way, get over it or just calm down. It’s rewarding to see people begin to understand what it’s like to have difficulty getting one’s own brain to cooperate.

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