Eleanor Longden was just like every other student when she started college. Her outside appearance was a world away from what was going on inside her mind. During her first year at university she was taking a psychology test when the voices began. Shortly after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctors and individuals involved in the care of her mental health treated her as a schizophrenic and not as a human being; they wanted to treat the disorder and not her past trauma. Two years after her diagnosis her symptoms worsened with terrifying voices, obscene visions and delusions. During the difficult time after her diagnosis she experienced sexual assault. At one point she tried to drill a hole in her head to relieve the voices. Her years post-diagnosis were difficult times and some of the treatment she received by professionals only worsened her condition. Eleanor enlightens her viewers on the fact that schizophrenia is a greatly stigmatized mental disorder. Through her story she educates viewers on the importance of viewing and treating individuals with schizophrenia as people and not just by their disorder.
Schizophrenia is a ruthlessly stigmatized mental disorder classified by the following symptoms: Disordered thinking, hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. There are more classifications of the disorder but these are the more common symptoms. I have always been fascinated by the human mind, more specifically what we characterize as mental illness or abnormal psychology. I remember taking “abnormal” psychology my junior year in college; the professor asked a thoughtful question “do you think calling this class “abnormal” psychology reinforces the very real stigma associated with mental illnesses”? To this day I still think of that question as I continue my education towards becoming a therapist. At the time I did not think too much about the question, but as time went on I understood how stigmatized individuals with mental illness are. As someone who wants to help people with mental health issues and improve individuals overall emotional health, I am greatly frustrated by the still largely existing social stigma surrounding mental illness. We have come a far way from frontal lobotomies, but having discussions about mental health and illnesses lack not only on a social/cultural level but on political policy-making level as well.
During her TED talk, Eleanor discusses how part of her died during her young adulthood battling schizophrenia. She notes the person who died was broken and insecure, but through her recovery a stronger and resilient Eleanor emerged. Her story is truly inspiring; she shines a positive light on the dark, misguided perceptions associated with schizophrenia.
Eleanor is now a part of INTERVOICE, a worldwide organization that seeks to acknowledge hearing voices is normal, though an unusual part of human behavior.
INTERVOICE aims to:
▪ Show that hearing voices is a normal though unusual variation in human behaviour
▪ Show that the problem is not hearing voices but the inability to cope with the experience
▪ Educate society about the meaning of voices so as to reduce ignorance & anxiety and to ensure this innovatory approach on voice hearing is better known by voice hearers, families, professionals and the general public
▪ Demonstrate the wide variety of voice hearing experiences and their origins, and peoples’ approaches to coping
▪ Increase the quality and quantity of mutual support available to all people and Organizations involved in hearing voices work across the world
make our work more effective and develop more non-medical ways of helping voice hearers cope with their experiences.
Eleanor argues for a change in how we understand individuals with schizophrenia and others who hear voices from what is wrong with them but rather what has happened to them. It takes a shift from treating an illness to treating the individual in a whole, holistic way. Treating not only the disorder but also the individual and their specific life history.
Schizophrenia is a very real mental disorder. Not everyone who suffers from schizophrenia will recover after his or her first manic episode. Schizophrenia affects a wide range of people from all over the world; it is viewed differently depending on one’s own culture. As a society it is vital we have conversations about mental health. Helping to lift the stigma that surrounds mental illness and disorders. You yourself may suffer from mental health issues or it may be your sibling, cousin, friend, parent or someone you know. We all know someone who is affected by mental health but many times we lack empathy for individuals who are suffering from mental health because they are seen as deviants. As I advocate for de-stigmatizing mental health, I ask you to start a conversation or educate yourself on mental health, it is one step we can make towards helping other citizens of the world who suffer in silence.