Legislators, the Media and the Public Experience Schizophrenia
Virtual reality machine helps
Daniel S. Frey, Editor in Chief
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Last month I participated in "Burdens of Schizophrenia, Barriers to Care: Experience Schizophrenia Through a Symptom Simulator—the Virtual Hallucination Machine," at the State Capitol in Albany. Nearly 100 legislators, journalists, healthcare leaders, criminal justice officials and others attended this educational program that was conducted by the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) to raise awareness about schizophrenia.

Program attendees were invited to use a unique learning tool, the Virtual Hallucination Machine, to experience first-hand the types of auditory and visual hallucinations that someone with schizophrenia may experience. A panel of speakers, including myself, discussed the economic impact of the disorder, the dangers of restricting access to treatment, and the importance of adherence and support services.

Assemblyman Peter Rivera, 76th District, New York and Joseph A. Glazer, President and Chief Executive Offer, MHANYS, discussed the mental health budget and access issues in New York. Dr. John Docherty, President and Chief Executive Officer, Comprehensive NeuroScience, Inc., explained the physiology of schizophrenia and stressed the importance of treatment. I provided a personal account of my experience with the disorder and how effective treatment has allowed me to achieve a fulfilling personal and professional life.

Following the program, MHANYS invited the general public into the Capitol, where they could experience the Virtual Hallucination Machine, talk to experts about schizophrenia and receive written materials on mental health issues. The Virtual Hallucination Machine, an interactive tool developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, uses advanced, virtual-reality technology. Participants wear goggles and earphones, allowing them to control the simulation by responding to visual and auditory "hallucinations" to create a unique experience.

I spoke with many attendees who had family or friends with serious mental illness and they said the machine gave them a better understanding of how devastating schizophrenia is if untreated. One participant remarked after using the machine, "that was really frightening." It surely is. That is the point.
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