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When I first visited the Virtual Hallucinations Project on Sedig, after reading the New World Notes blog entry about it, I didn’t think I was likely to find it nearly as disturbing as the article described. I’ve read numerous books about schizophrenia, have friends who suffer from it, had conversations with people who were convinced the birds were spying on them or people were hypnotizing them into making their leg hurt, or their girlfriend was actually someone else who’d had a face transplant… An educational tool on Second Life to give people an insight into the experience of schizophrenia sounded like an extremely important and worthwhile idea, but I was skeptical that it would get to me in the way it obviously got to some other people. After all, it was only a couple of minutes long.

the virtual hallucinations project

The project was created by a doctor in California as a training tool. You put on a button which loads the sounds, and put on headphones so the noises are right there in your ear, as if they’re inside your head. Then you enter a small building that replicates areas of a psychiatric hospital… and the voices and visual changes start.

The voices and graphics recreate experiences related by specific psychiatric patients – a man who saw himself dead in the mirror each morning, another who heard voices telling him to take a police officer’s gun and kill himself – as well as common themes, like a television broadcast which talks directly to you.

Simply knowing about these things does not prepare you for the experience of hearing the voices as if they’re there in your head, repeatedly telling you how worthless you are. After a couple of minutes I emerged the other end, and burst into tears. I TPed a friend over and told her to go through – she came out the other end with exactly the same reaction. The idea of living with this every day, every minute, with no off button, no escape, is simply horrifying.

I wish everyone who works in the field of mental health would be taken through the Virtual Hallucinations project – in my experience, it’s shocking how many of them lack any empathy for their patients (or service users, as people in the system are now called). And given the terrible amount of stigma that still surrounds mental illness, particularly of the more severe kinds, I think it’s somewhere many people ought to visit.

The Project warns that it is not a good idea to go through it if you’ve experienced psychosis, however, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s currently very depressed or battling intrusive negative thoughts of any kind. It really is horrendously disturbing. But it’s also a tremendously important educational project, so if you’re not mentally unwell yourself, and have the slightest interest in developing your knowledge or compassion towards others, go there now.

TP: Virtual Hallucinations Project.

the television is talking to you

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