Tomorrow is September 14, “International World Hearing Voices Day”. Who knew? Talk about turning a ‘negative’ into a positive! And in honour of the estimated 230 million folks in the world who hear voices, I am reflecting.
I’m thinking about how the meaning of hearing voices has evolved in me over the past two years as I have been introduced to a whole different “alternative” way of understanding the concept.
I first learned that there were people who heard voices at 19, when Mom decided it was time to mention her brother Norman. He was about to be released from the mental institution where he’d spent the previous 20 years as a “schizophrenic” who heard voices. Unfortunately, his voices had been telling him to kill a famous person**, so he was locked up. It’s probably debatable whether prison would have been better or worse.
My – as usual — compassionate mother, being about 50 years ahead of her time, believed his psychosis was the result of emotional bullying he had experienced since early childhood, when a teacher had his brother bring a doll into school and place it on his desk to embarrass him. A teacher. At the time he might have been ten years old.
The ‘alternative’ stream on the subject of hearing voices (sometimes called ‘auditory hallucinations’) is finally beginning to be heard, but it’s been a long, tough battle with the powerful pharmaceutical industry dominating the conventional view.
No doubt it was my mother’s stories that leaned me in the direction of ‘humanistic psychology’ over the subsequent decades. But even so, I did eventually capsize in the face pharmaceutical marketing success, buying into biologically-based theories of mental illness, which could be dealt with by taking pills. Ah, modern miracles!
Over the past two years, thanks to some wonderful, highly functional, voice hearers who introduced me to a whole world of alternative perspectives, my consciousness has been raised – along with my anger at the harm that has been done to countless people by the dominance of the pharmaceutical industry in mental health.
Just for starters, the next time you notice a homeless person, choose to wonder if they once were part of a “normal, middle-class” family. Were they, perchance, one of the victims of the brain damage which can be caused by anti-psychotic drugs – drugs which could render you, me, or anyone, incapable of working or supporting a home and family? Were they people who could have been assisted, instead, in learning to understand and live with their voices – living fully functional lives, with their voices in tow?***
And think on this: there is a very high probability that you have known people who hear voices. Stigma, and the widespread belief in conventional theories, make it too risky for them to tell you.
** No point mentioning who, as they’ve been dead and gone for many decades!