Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Auditory Hallucination

"I began to tire of certain types of irrational thinking. I was doing things at the time, studying or doing some calculations."
"So it may be that the delusional thinking began to become unsatisfying."
John Forbes Nash, mathematician (A Beautiful Mind)

"[I always had] a little voice in my head."
"While onstage during classical theatre, the voice would suddenly say, 'Oh, you think you can do Shakespeare, do you?"
Anthony Hopkins, British actor
‘My brothers in Paradise tell me what I must do,’ said Joan of Arc, who claimed that her orders came from saints and angels Getty Images

Most people cannot imagine what it is like to live with the strange auditory sensation that you share your head with another, a voice not your own -- and sometimes more than one voice -- which intervenes in your thought processes, your verbal expression, your sense of self. And those people for whom this sensation is a reality are not particularly prone to publicizing their differences from the general population, since to admit you 'hear voices' in your head can be construed as an admission of insanity.

After all, people who commit criminal acts often speak of 'hearing voices'. Those who are charged with killing other people in a ferocious attack of group slaughter are not unknown to say in their defence, that 'God' told them to kill, and those they killed were not human but spawn of the devil. There are, however, people who do hear voices, sometimes offering encouragement, and sometimes disparaging in nature.

One person spoke of hearing a "hurricane" of voices, when one detached itself from the crowd and advised: "You are the flyer of the kite".

The voices can be male, can be female, or gender-unidentified, irrespective of whose brain they inhabit and speak from. These auditory "hallucinations" are anything but hallucinatory to those hearing them. They certainly do not represent someone having a conversation with themselves over a dilemma, attempting to come to a fuller understanding to help pave the way to an appropriate response.

These are actual voices impinging on the aural consciousness of the hearer.

One of the most famous historical personages who responded to the voices she heard, was the 17-year-old Maid of Orleans. Joan of Arc, who became so certain of a divine voice within instructing her to act that she is credited with turning the tide of battle in France in the 15th Century during the Hundred Years War, leading the French into successful battle against the English and dying a celebrated martyr.

Hearing voices may not be entirely attributable to mental illness per se, but the phenomenon is undoubtedly a great burden to those who experience it. Nursing students are being taught to empathize with those who do hear those voices and who struggle to get on with their lives. "There are a lot of people struggling who learn coping strategies. It's how you look at the experience", explains nursing professor Carmen Hust.

And so, the students are exposed to an approximation of what the hearer-of-voices goes through, through listening to a 45-minute-long recording playing into their ears while being tasked to navigate tasks such as ordering a coffee or engaging in a word puzzle, or paying attention to presenting themselves in a mock job interview. "I couldn't process how someone could listen to that all day", commented one nursing student.

She had found the simulation so upsetting she simply cut short the experiment. While another discovered the voices to be so distressing to her personally she was unable to concentrate on what others in the room with her were saying to her. "I can understand the stigma", she said of the distraction and her inability to function under the stress.

The exercise does work, obviously; exposing nursing students to the kind of disorientation that voice-hearers undergo moment to moment. Having briefly experienced what it is like as a burden to clarity, thought and action, prepares them for a placement in mental health settings. "Up until now, mental health was all theory", one student remarked. "These workshops help to bridge that gap." 

It is a dilemma in society. A phenomenon that strikes more people than we can be aware of. Hearing voices is connected in most peoples' minds with schizophrenia, yet it appears to be common among people who are depressed, anxious or bipolar. The voices have a tendency to increase in volume and intensity, reflecting times of stress or trauma.

An estimated five to 28 percent of the general population hear voices unheard by other people, according to the British Mental Health Foundation. And according to Intervoice, a self-help group and an international network of voice hearers, in the aftermath of a traumatic event between 70 to 90 percent of people hear voices.

What is also emphasized for these nursing students is the resilience of people suffering from mental health conditions where between half and two-thirds of those diagnosed and living with major mental health disorders eventually experience a complete recovery.

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