This story from May 2011 won a 2012 Anson Jones Award. This award, presented by the Texas Medical Association recognizes excellence in health communication.
The World Health Organization has identified schizophrenia as one of the ten most debilitating diseases affecting human beings. It is also one of the most misunderstood diseases. That's why the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center is making sure every nursing student there understands what it feels like to be among the two million Americans who live with Schizophrenia.
We all think we know what schizophrenia is by watching movies such as Sybil, Black Swan, and A Beautiful Mind. However, schizophrenia doesn't mean a split personality. That's a myth the National Alliance of Mental Illness is trying to shatter. It says that patients with schizophrenia can't think clearly because they hear or see things that aren't there, and they believe things that aren't true.
Almost all patients aren't dangerous or violent to others, but the concern is more for their own safety.
It usually shows up in the teenage years or the early 20's, but it's not the result of bad parenting. Patients see and hear things that are not real, but scientists have identified broad differences in those patients that are real. This makes it a challenge to just get through their daily routine.
Imagine what it would be like to have voices bullying you, and you can't stop hearing them. That's what these students at TTUHSC are learning. They experience what it feels like to have that kind of mental illness. At the Marie Hall Sim Center, a group of students listen to at least three female voices and one male voice on a headset that they are required to wear. They must keep the headset on at all times because a schizophrenia patient can't take the headset off or turn off the voices. The male voice is mean and rude. He likes to encourage the students to hurt themselves.
With the headsets on and the voices strong, the students are told to go on about their daily routine. Each student will take a set of money and navigate through the grocery store. However, one student said that she couldn't concentrate. It was just too hard. The student said that the voice is telling her to stop what she's doing. The voice is also reminding her that she stinks and she is ugly. The student said that she wanted to turn off the voices because it was very disturbing.
Other students at TTUHSC participated in simple tasks. Some filled out job applications, and other students attempted to line up matches. They all said that it was extremely hard to focus and concentrate on what they were doing.
The students compared notes with other students, and they each learned the same lesson. "I can't really listen to my own thoughts because voices are louder, and I would go crazy if I had to listen to this all day," one student said.
That's what makes the Marie Hall Sim Center so effective for these students as a training ground for what they'll experience as nurses.
It allows them to be empathetic and compassionate for what they will see in mental institutions. It also enables them to talk to schizophrenia patients and understand exactly what they experience each day.
There is no cure for schizophrenia, but with the right treatment and understanding, it can be controlled.
It's a great idea to start getting involved in NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more information about NAMI, just visit their website at http://www.nami.org.
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