What Its Really Like To Be Schizophrenic

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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.

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


  1. Yadis says:

    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 says:

      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!

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