Schizophrenia Simulation

What Its Really Like To Be Schizophrenic

A few years ago NPR did a story called “The Sights and Sounds of Schizophrenia” which tells about a training program created by Janssen Pharmaceutica, a pharmaceutical company that specializes in treatment for Schizophrenia.

I watched the 5 minute video just one time 5 years ago and it literally changed me. It was such a powerful and moving experience that I cannot forget it and it altered my perception of mental illness forever.

I’ve tried to tell people about it over the years, but it’s just something you have to see, so finally I searched and searched until I found it again so I could put it on the blog.

The textbook description of schizophrenia is a listing of symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and behavior. But what does schizophrenia really feel like? NPR’s Joanne Silberner reports on a virtual reality experience that simulates common symptoms of the mental illness.

Silberner, who experienced the simulation, says it works this way: “For five to 10 minutes, someone wanting to know what it feels like to have untreated schizophrenia puts on goggles and headphones, and sees and hears a range of hallucinations. You can choose your virtual reality — what happens on a trip to the doctor’s office, or on a ride on a city bus.” In the program she experienced, a caseworker takes the schizophrenia patient to a grocery store with a pharmacy in the back, to refill a prescription.

To create the virtual reality project, technical director Stephen Streibig consulted a group of people with schizophrenia, including Daniel Frey, 26. Frey describes what he and Silberner experienced in the program: “When you first walk into the pharmacy, you’re walking through the aisles and there are people staring at you, just staring at you from every aisle. And there’s one instance where there is a woman sort of protecting her children from you when you walk through the aisle.”

Even though schizophrenia patient Frey consulted on the project, he found the simulation too disturbing to sit all the way through. When Silberner tells him she was terrified by the experience, Frey responds, “Yeah, you ought to be! Imagine not being able to take off the goggles, the helmet.”

I also found this other video that is even better, in a creepy sort of way:

If you found this as informative as I did please help spread the word. I think the more people that see this, the greater the tolerance we’ll have for those less fortunate than ourselves.




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  1. Darrin

    Hi have schizophrenia also. I have had it for the last 2 years. Most of my schizophrenia is auditory where I hear voices that are kind of distant. Sometimes I cant make out what they are saying but most of the time the voices are negative. The voices really messed my mind up and have put me in a bad depression. Its kind of like being in a bad a relationship where you are always being mentally beat up. Its difficult to deal with and I don’t know how I have made it this far in the last 2 years. I feel like everyone hates me (which they do) because they listen to the voices who are always putting me down. I have lost so much of myself since this illness has come into my life. I don’t know who I am anymore. When I look into my eyes all I see is pain. Its a lonely life when your living with schizophrenia. Well besides the voices following you where ever you go its a pretty lonely life.

  2. Don Fraser

    I have a 36 year history with schizophrenia. I am in remission now and I’d like to stress one important point from the videos/comments. You can recover from this illness. There are a good 50% of people who do respond to treatment. Most of the treatment programs are based on the recovery model. With all the new drugs available now and psycho-therapy as an important part, many of us recover and go on to lead healthy, normal lives. Yes,it’s a nightmare, but there is hope.

  3. Kateridawn

    My husband had schizophrenia for 7 of the 8 years we were married. Unfortunately he committed suicide last October as a result. These videos scared the hell out of me and I had the choice to turn them off. I cannot imagine what he was going through. He told me that he heard family members commenting on his actions and thoughts. He believed that they implanted something into his head that allowed them to see what he saw and to read his thoughts. At times he would accuse me of being on their side as well. He used to listen to music really loud all of the time. I think that he was trying to drown out the commentary in his head. When I met him, he was always the life of the party and was so fun and outgoing. After he got schizophrenia, he stayed secluded in the room. On the rare occasion that he would go out of the house, he would sometimes have these outbursts of rage. He felt like there were so many people involved in the conspiracy. I tried to help him and I always stood by him whenever he would let me. I miss him very much but I also miss the man that he was before he got sick. I am so sorry that you have to go through this and I hope that you find strength in all of this.

    • LG

      I am sorry for your loss, i can imagine how your life and your husbands life must have been. My brother is recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia as well, and he used to imagine the same thing as your husband did, luckily for us, the hospital people came to our rescue and took him involuntarily.

  4. theresa

    How can a person help to make a loved one aware that she may have schizophrenia. My heart is breaking every day that goes by without a diagnosis,without a treatment plan and every call i make to behavioral health describing behaviors that only results in some one saying”well sleeping out side in the rain is not enough for an involuntary commitment” I feel like I’m loosing my baby. She will be sad then laughs at sad stuff, she holds her hands over her ears and cries, she was a total recluse for about2 and half years but now she is coming out more which I thought was great but now she has all kinds of odd behaviors. I keep asking for help and I can’t seem to get anywhere because she’s now an adult. Please help me to help this incredibly artistic and warm hearted beautiful little girl. 2092061076 please help

  5. Yadis

    I have schizophrenia and mine feels like both videos … I could honestly just watch the first 3 minutes. For those who want to know what schizophrenia is really like its very close to the videos… Except mine, I get geared up whenever I hear cars driving slow, feel if I am cooking and someone touches my food, I feel like they are trying to poison me. When I go to sleep I hear whispers in my ear. And don’t let me tell you how bad the stuff gets of my meds: I’ve seen gremlin/demon looking things, one whom transformed from my sleeping daughter, loud bangs like a pistol when I go to sleep. I can’t look at mirrors because they scare me most times, I feel like cars are following me, feel like when people are at ear distance are talking about me. Don’t let me forget the shadow people and the smells along with the bright lights that hurt my eyes. It’s a hard disorder. When I was rock bottom, I had like 4-5 voices telling me to kill myself because I was worthless and a sad excuse for a human being. I attempted suicide 2 times. The voices are mostly in my head, I know how to tell the difference, however when I miss some doses they become auditory in my external perception. It’s a pretty messed up mental illness to have.

    • Tim Weiss

      I wish you well, Yadis! I know you are a wonderful human being full of love and life!

      I’m not entirely familiar with the condition the videos depict and what you describe as your experience, but I am interested to learn and engage! I am amazed that with all of these voices you hear inside your head that you are still able to find your voice and type it out for yourself, as you wanted it. Perhaps it took you a while to type it all out, perhaps not. In order to write out what you did, you had to ignore some of the voices, right? Are you able to talk back to these voices, even debate these voices, in your head? If you tried to take one on at a time and dialogue, or politely asked them to stop, does that do anything? I think you are more normal than you may think, or I am more abnormal than I think :). I don’t aim to confuse you or make things worse, which I hope I don’t do!

      Would it make absolutely no sense if I suggested the voices you hear are just a product of what you hear with your sense of hearing? If you wore noise cancelling headphones, would the voices stop? Does music help with your state of mind?

      Forgive me for all of the intrusive questions. You don’t know me, so feel free not to answer. I only seek to understand myself better through you, because in some ways I relate to your experience.

      With all of the kindness of my heart, I wish you well, Yadis! I understand you are a wonderful human being full of love and life!

  6. Peter

    I am not a psycologist, but my theory is this:
    The thoughts of every human mind can be broken down into two catagories: memories and fantasies. We all have both of them. They are both critical for our survival, as fantasies gives us the motivation to do great things and memories provide us with the tools to do those great things. But what is the difference between memories and fantasies? Well, we can play out memories and we can play out fantasies in our heads. And as it turns out our fantasies are just as vivid and real as the memories in our minds. So to answer that question the only real difference from our own perspective is that we BELIEVE our memories and we DO NOT BELIEVE our fantasies.

    But what would happen if if we swithed that around? As it turns out we do it all the time. Let me give you an example; I believed True was the correct answer whereas the professor believed False is the correct answer – somebody here is believing in a fantasy.

    Now lets do a very cruel science experiment on an intellegent, well-to-do, creatively thinking young adult. Lets flip the belief switch from memory to fantasy. The result? Schizophrenia. I think this is the reason why so many schizophrenics fear “thought insertion” as it is so easy for all of us to insert a fantasy into our mind, most people call it imagination while schizophrenics call it reality.

    Why does this happen? I think its because our memories and fantasies are the same thing – thoughts, and you can’t blame someone for getting something mixed up with itself.

    One last thing, I don’t think that a virtual reality device will ever come remotley close to simulating what a schizophrenic experiences.

    • Kim

      No offense, but instead of making up theories, maybe you should take a look at the research? I’m not a psychologist either, but I AM about to get my bachelor’s in psychology in under two weeks, and I can say with certainty that your theory is far to simple to adequately explain what i going on in the brain of a person with schizophrenia. Don’t just make up theories when you have nothing to build them off of, you know? Educate yourself on the neuroscience of it a bit. I think you’ll see that schizophrenia has very little to do with fantasy and much more to do with neurotransmitter malfunction and unusual brain structure (ie portions of the brain of unusual size. Large lateral ventricles are common in people with schizophrenia), as far as modern science is able to tell.

      Not only that, your argument about how healthy individuals process fantasy, reality, and memories is also incorrect. People make up memories all the time, and the more a person recalls a memory, the more likely that memory is to be incorrect. We don’t know our own life histories nearly as well as we like to think we do. In this sense, healthy people confuse fantasy and reality all the time.

      Also, also, the logic behind your example of a teacher and student is faulty. Neither of them are living a fantasy just because they have been misinformed. It’s not information their brains made up, in classroom situations both teacher and student almost always get their answers from other sources which they trust to know the correct answer. If you trust a person to have your back and they don’t it doesn’t mean you’re fantasizing, it means you’ve made an error in judgement.

      Finally, your theory completely ignores catatonic schizophrenia, which is not characterized by hallucinations or paranoia at all. It is characterized by literal catatonic episodes. I don’t really have the time to explain it in detail, but you should look it up. It’s really interesting.

      Anyways, I’m really sorry if this came off as being an attack or offensive, I just think its really important that people are aware of mental health issues, and it upset me a bit that you don’t realize how putting unsubstantiated theories out there, even when they come with a disclaimer, can give people fuel for their ignorance and hate. The more misinformation their is, the harder it is to re-educate someone, you know?

  7. Jennifer

    I’ve just started having the voices.. But they’re in my head, not out loud. When i do hear things out loud, i hear footsteps coming towards me and breathing and then people call my name.. The only things i see are shadows of people when no one is there. I have no control of my thoughts anymore, and they’re cruel.. I always feel like someone is watching me or like somethings there and that i’m not safe, and I taste and smell blood a lot but there is no possible way that should be happening.. Its been going on for a few weeks now, when should I go to a doctor?? He’ll never believe me if i tell him..

    • The_Avenger

      Ok well I had similar experiences and the doctors were very understanding. But I was fooled by some very evil people. I dont hear voices by myself only around these two faced people who tried to convince me otherwise. Anyway Honestly if they believed me someone who was tricked into believing this than I can say they would believe every word. So go to a doctor and tell them all your symptoms but make sure you tell everything. You could have chronic schizophrenia. So really go to the doctor they can be some really nice and understanding people. You would e surprised how they try all they can to help you. I dont know where you live so I cant really tell you where to go. But Find a hospital near you and spill the eans like you did here. It wont be easy but seems nothing really is in this life. Hope you get well.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

    • confused

      I do not completely understand schizophrenia…are the voices out loud or can they be your personal negative anxiose thoughts? I have read that depression, anxiety dissorders and lack of sleep can cause some of the same symptoms. I agree with the_ avenger you should seek the consultation of a therapist.
      I am curious what the_ avengers story is related to evil minded people. Not because I doubt his/her story but I have a similar story where a few coworkers made my life difficult by making rude angry gestures at me to my face and behind my back. Sometimes I would here them call me names or say that I was crazy. They also made a rude nickname for me one of them said it loud and clear to my face. I tricked another coworker into telling me what I meant but many other times it was under there breathe so only I could here. I told management but they acted as if I was hearing things. I doubted myself as well. I never hear any voices outside my head when I’m alone but sometimes when I’m around some ppl…I do. But the voice I hear is there’s not a disembodied voice….or a strangers….and the Tv isn’t talking to me. Although sometimes I wont be in the room and the news will be on and ill think she cursed and ill then pay closer attention and realize it was just a word that sounded familiar.However I’m not going to lie I do feel as if someone has gone out of there to spread negative stuff about me in order to discredit me. Also I have been diagnosed with sociology anxiety and depression….I’m also hypothyroid…I fear all the time now that I’m going crazy and I’m worried how this may affect me finding jobs.

  8. Steven

    I was diagnosed with bipolar NOS and had psychosis at the time but i’m seeing a psychiatrist next week. The voices I hear are whispers that are reading my thoughts out loud. I get intrusive thought and then have to deal with hearing it in creepy whispers. This has been going on for 5 months and the voices occur when i’m depressed, happy, or even neutral. Hopefully I find out whats going on soon.


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