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Students hear voices to gain perspective

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUTNY (WBRE/WYOU) -  They say you never truly understand something unless you've lived it.

Educators are hoping some first-hand experience medical students received today will help address a health services gap in the region.

With an iPod and a pair of headphones, these first year medical students learned how hard it is to complete simple everyday tasks, when you are constantly hearing distressing voices in your head.

Sarah Higgins is one of several Geisinger Commonwealth Medical College students that took part in this "hearing voices" simulation.

"All I wanted to do was stop. I was like 'i just want to listen to my own thoughts for a second without the extra voices. And that was frustrating because in real life.. You cannot turn it off." Sarah said.

They had to try to complete mock tasks, like social interaction, and group activities while listening to sometimes stressful recordings.

"I’m sitting there doing origami, and all of a sudden I hear, "stop, you can’t do it."" said Connor Magura, who also studies at Geisinger. “I even tried to answer questions a psychiatrist would ask a patient and found it incredibly difficult to focus.

The insurance company, Community Care Behavioral Health, uses the simulation as a training aid. They partnered with the medical college to give students a deeper understanding of those with psychiatric disabilities.

According to the treatment advocacy center, there were about 100,000 people with schizophrenia in Pennsylvania in 2016.

Schizophrenia is not the only condition that can allow you hear voices however.

Vanessa White Fernandes, who works at Community Care Behavioral Health, said "there are ones related to neurological or physiological disorders. There are ones related to trauma or cultural experiences".

The hope is that students in this program will go into the field with more empathy and have become more effective in helping people with these conditions.

Doctor Patricia Deegan developed the simulation several years ago. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was a teenager.


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