Virtual reality experience shows what it is like living with mental illness

By Rick Charmoli CADILLAC NEWS — Hallucinations, voices in your head, confusion and uncertainty are things a group of people experienced Thursday in Cadillac. While those living with schizophrenia deal with those challenges on a daily basis, a number of caregivers, people who work with them and members of the public were able to experience those same symptoms through virtual reality Thursday.

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, in conjunction with with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, set up a virtual symptom simulator that gave participants a chance to feel what it’s like to suffer from schizophrenia.

Craig Saunders works at Michigan Rehabilitation Services and helps both individuals with disabilities and employers with employment services. He attended the simulation because he wanted to have a better understanding of some of the clients he serves.

“Part of the population I deal with have mental health issues, and I wanted to see what they deal with,” he said. “I never dealt with it myself, and I thought I would get a good sense of it.”

Saunders said he was most surprised at how intense it was in terms of noise, voices and hallucinations. He added that if a person didn’t have a support system, he was not sure how someone could function. “There is so much going on that a person could get lost,” Saunders said.

Nathan Belville, a registered nurse with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, went through the virtual reality experience to get a better understanding of some of his patients. Belville works in Assertive Community Treatment, which provides basic services and support for people with serious mental illness so they can maintain their independence.

“It showed the confusion and disorder people deal with,” Belville said.

Northern Lakes Operations Manager Abbi Mankiewicz said the virtual reality experience was blocked off for 10-minute intervals and was booked solid for the five-hour period it was offered.

Mankiewicz said it provides a genuine feeling of the symptoms of schizophrenia and its devastating impact on both the patients and their families.

Link to Cadillac News article: http://www.cadillacnews.coms_story/?story_id=1810085&year=2013&issue=20130607