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A new voice for schizophrenia

A new voice for schizophrenia

Personal circumstances inspired a Victoria University of Wellington student to invent new technology that helps family members of people with schizophrenia understand what it’s like hearing voices.

Me_04As part of her Master’s in design innovation, Sarah Mokhtar has spent the last year developing a downloadable app and wearable technology scarf that allow people to hear voices and understand what that experience is like.

In her teens, Sarah, who has an older sister with schizophrenia, attended a workshop which involved listening to a simulation of voices heard by a schizophrenic person. “I wanted to understand what it was like for my sibling to live with voices and also to help other people in the same situation as me.”

Sarah set out to create an extension of what she had heard at the workshop, partnering with the organiser during her Master’s year to develop new devices that can deliver a more accurate experience of a schizophrenic person's life.

“I started thinking about what we wear every day and came up with the wearable technology scarf. When it was done, I wanted to make it more accessible. The age group I’m marketing to are technology savvy, so creating an app was a natural fit.”

Earlier this year, Sarah entered the scarf into an exhibition called Mental Blocks, an art initiative organised by mental health awareness group Changing Minds, to encourage discussion. “There was great response from people in the mental health community who were particularly interested in how it could help with education in schools.”

The scarf and app respond to the environment and create a distracting experience for users as they go about their everyday activities. Until now, says Sarah, there hasn’t been any resources for siblings and family members to understand what it’s like to hear voices.
To appreciate its full effect, Sarah wore the scarf around Wellington for a day.

“It was much more difficult than I anticipated, to the point where I actually avoided conversations with people because I didn’t want to have to cope with voices talking to me while trying to communicate normally,” she says.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in myself through this project is my appreciation for my sibling. I want to be more involved in her life now. For me to want more contact with my sister and have a relationship I felt like I lost, is a significant change.”

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