For many years, schizophrenics have been stigmatized against. (Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times)
University High School

Opinion: People with schizophrenia should be supported, not stigmatized for their betterment

Imagine a situation, a circumstance or an event that has caused you to get highly nervous.

In the instance you imagined, you are stressed. You feel your heartbeat gradually increasing. It’s so high up and you are so out of breath that it’s as if you’re about to jump off of a cliff.

The criticizing thoughts in your head about what will happen and what you’re doing wrong are nonstop; one following the other, it makes you think you aren’t jumping off of a cliff but instead freediving into a spiral of perpetual thoughts: “Will that happen,” “what will I do if it does,” “is he/she looking,” “what will they think of me,” “what if I fail,” “this is my only chance.”

They are any and every kind of daunting thoughts. They wander in your mind and bluntly suffocate you. And you are just unable to stop it.

Ever felt like this?

For a person undiagnosed with any mental disorder, this is determined as normal anxiety. It’s pretty normal and can be beneficial by prompting you to work harder for a test or a speech, according to Harvard Health

Now that you have a sense of how mentally draining a normal anxiety attack can feel, try imagining how life must be for a person who regularly goes through mental uneasiness that’s prominently higher in intensity than what’s described above.

Such people live through these feelings much too regularly: while doing simple tasks, running errands, walking down the street, being in public places or even passing by these places.

As you’ll see in the video of the widely known American television journalist and political commentator Anderson Cooper, they are in constant tension, feud with the actual voices in their heads. It’s immensely demotivating, scary, unbearable and frustrating. That is why they are unable to interact and engage in social conversations, calm themselves down, “go with the flow,” live, act independently like we do.

Thus, the mental burden they are destined to cope with is immense and ignorantly labeling them as violent, ill or inhuman only makes their condition worse when they are in need of respect, support and acknowledgment. There exists a grand stigma surrounding Schizophrenics along with all other mentally ill individuals: it’s ignorant, brutal, discriminatory and full of prejudice.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, this approach of society prevents their betterment by having these common consequences:

  • Anger 
  • Depression 
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Self-isolation
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment 
  • Prevention from recovery
  • Avoidance of help-seeking

To raise awareness, Anderson Cooper conducted an experiment in 2014. In his experiment, he spent a day with a simulation of one of the typical symptoms of schizophrenia: auditory hallucinations (imaginary voices). He put on headphones that simulated hearing voices of a bunch of people talking to him specifically about the tasks he did — which were nothing but simple and ordinary — and the answers he gave.

As seen on the attached YouTube video, Anderson Cooper suffered from demotivation and distraction that was evident throughout the experiment. It is noticeable that these voices could be aggressive, shouting, judging and worrisome, causing extreme tension and panic. However, they could be simultaneously calming, whispering and comforting.

These obstacles prevented Anderson Cooper from naming the last 4 United States presidents, completing a simple number puzzle, remembering 5 short random words and numbers that demanded only a moderate level of attention. Looking at his negative use of the word “incredible” for about 5 times in the 5-minute video, it is clear that he found the experience to be profoundly uncomfortable and as he puts it, “depressing.”

Cooper also mentioned a remarkable number of times that he had this urge to talk back to the voices and engage in conversations with them. Now don’t symptoms like these commonly make people inaccurately conclude that they are violent?

Elenor Longden, a psychologist with a master’s degree and schizophrenic, has heard menacing voices in her head, for 10 years. In her TED Talk, she mentions how she was told by her psychiatrist that she would be better off with cancer because it’s easier to cure than schizophrenia.

Ultimately, it took her 10 years of fighting against all kinds of discriminatory labels to finally find the strength and motivation to treat herself. Now she is an advocate of the Hearing Voices Network and a psychologist with a master’s degree.

She is taking part in creating a society that’s understanding, respecting, supporting and hopeful in the recovery of individuals who undergo unusual perceptions. She teaches the society to treat these people as not crazy but complex and significant individuals who are experiencing meaningful, instead of dehumanizing, symptoms.

This approach is widely absent in our society and it is precisely the approach needed towards the betterment of Schizophrenic people so that they can function to their potential.

A simulation similar to what Anderson Cooper listened to can be found here (may be distressing): Auditory Hallucinations – An Audio Representation