Stuff about Schizophrenia: American exceptionalism is real!

via Boing Boing

On the nature of schizophrenia as it relates to culture

The New York Times recently posted a story about research in schizophrenia patients in India and in America, and revealed something kind of disturbing about what seems like it must be something to do with America's culture:

In the past few years I have been working with some colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India, to compare the voice-hearing experience of people with schizophrenia in the United States and India.

The two groups of patients have much in common. Neither particularly likes hearing voices. Both report hearing mean and sometimes violent commands. But in our sample of 20 comparable cases from each country, the voices heard by patients in Chennai are considerably less violent than those heard by patients in San Mateo, Calif.

Describing his own voices, an American matter-of-factly explained, “Usually it’s like torturing people to take their eyes out with a fork, or cut off someone’s head and drink the blood, that kind of stuff.” Other Americans spoke of “war,” as in, “They want to take me to war with them,” or their “suicide voice” asking, “Why don’t you end your life?”

In Chennai, the commanding voices often instructed people to do domestic chores — to cook, clean, eat, bathe, to “go to the kitchen, prepare food.” To be sure, some Chennai patients reported disgusting commands — in one case, a woman heard the god Hanuman insist that she drink out of a toilet bowl. But in Chennai, the horrible voices people reported seemed more focused on sex. Another woman said: “Male voice, very vulgar words, and raw. I would cry.”

(emphasis mine.)

So it looks like there is something special about America: we're so violent, we make our mentally ill people extra-violent!

[notice]I'm being pretty much totally unfair here.  The size of this study was 20 comparable cases from each country, which means either 20 or 40 people -- either way, it's not enough to draw the kind of sweeping conclusions I've made here.  But we'll see, when the research continues.[/notice]

On facing vs. denying mental illness

In another very small trial, patients with schizophrenia

...[C]reate[d] a computer-animated avatar for their voices and to converse with it. Patients chose a face for a digitally produced voice similar to the one they were hearing. They then practiced speaking to the avatar — they were encouraged to challenge it — and their therapist responded, using the avatar’s voice, in such a way that the avatar’s voice shifted from persecuting to supporting them.

All of the patients experienced a decrease in the frequency and intensity of their hallucinations, and three of them stopped hearing voices entirely.

The article also discusses a movement, called "Hearing Voices," who encourage patients with auditory hallucinations to communicate honestly and openly with them, rather than trying to suppress them.  On their website, they say the voices are "...a variation in human behavior, like being left-handed."

Altogether, lots of interesting things going on with schizophrenia these days.