Rarely will you find a well researched, well written article on mental health in Australia, let alone one that focuses on hearing voices, so when an article on this topic appeared on The Conversation a couple of months ago I’ll admit to approaching it with apprehension and dread.
What clichés would they trot out? Would the word compassion be as foreign to the writer as it is to most who write on this topic? How angry would I become from reading it? And more importantly, how angry would my voices become?
To my surprise, I needn’t have worried, for it was one of the rare occasions when mental health (and hearing voices) was reported with empathy, compassion and understanding.
It even received a thumbs up from two of my people, which is almost the greatest accolade you can receive! :p
Beyond madness: a modern approach to hearing voices
Four years ago, a woman came to speak to my third year psychology class at the University of Auckland. Her story completely changed the way I thought about voice-hearing. Like most people, I associated “hearing things” with being very unwell psychologically; with madness. Yet here was an articulate, hilarious and confident woman – a mental health educator – who was very much in touch with reality.
The first voice she heard was a supportive, maternal voice which didn’t cause her any distress. Later, she heard a group of demonic-like voices who threatened to harm her or those she cared about. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalised for many years.
Her turning point came when she asked her voices to show her some of their power by doing the dishes. When they didn’t, their hold over her started to loosen. Slowly, she learnt how to deal with her voices, built relationships with others and finally gained employment helping other voice-hearers. Hers is one of the stories of recovery recorded in Living with voices: 50 stories of recovery.
What struck me most about her story was how easy it was to draw an analogy between her voices and internal “self-talk”. Immediately, the experience of voice-hearing seemed less foreign and incomprehensible and more akin to what most people experience. This “inner-speech” theory is in fact the most well-known neuropsychological theory about what causes voices.
Apart from making voice-hearing seem less foreign, her story challenged several assumptions I held. First, it seemed that she was able to live a functional, productive and meaningful life while still hearing voices. Second, a diagnosis of schizophrenia is thought to carry with it a very poor prognosis, with little hope of recovery.
So, is her experience unique? It seems not. There is evidence of long-term recovery for around half of people distressed by their voices, enabling them to live meaningful lives and function to a degree considered normal by most people.
- Huffington Post Hears Voices – All Weekend (recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com)
- Eleanor Longden: WATCH: Why I Thank The Voices In My Head (huffingtonpost.com)
- The voices in my head: Eleanor Longden’s ‘psychic civil war’ (theguardian.com)