Health Team

Equipment gives glimpse into schizophrenia

Posted June 17, 2009 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated June 17, 2009 6:24 p.m. EDT

— Virtual equipment is helping people get a glimpse into the world of schizophrenia.

The Mental Health Association in North Carolina, Inc. used the virtual experience Mind Storm, which includes a headset and virtual screen, to give legislative building visitors and lawmakers a better understanding of the illness, Schizophrenia affects just over 1 percent of the U.S. population each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Schizophrenia patients sometimes hear voices, believe that their thoughts are being broadcast to the world, or become convinced that others are plotting to harm them, according to NIMH.

The equipment simulates a psychotic episode as experienced by schizophrenia patients. While wearing the headset, users hear competing voices and see strange images.

“It's kind of scary to see what people with serious illnesses go through,” said Christie Martin, who used the virtual machine.

Robert Hines was surprised at all of the “voices” people hear in their heads.

For some people, it may all seem hard to believe.

“It really is a real phenomenon and one of the things that we talk about with mental illness is that it is very real and what folks experience is real,” said John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina.

With the support of family and friends, good psychiatric care and medications, patients can live a normal life.

There is no one accepted cause for schizophrenia, but research points to heredity as a strong factor. People with a parent or grandparent who's had schizophrenia are at a greater risk for the illness. Environment also may play a large role, but there is no reliable way to predict whether a person will develop the disorder.