For a century, psychiatry has diagnosed the experience of hearing voices as a symptom of a biological illness, called schizophrenia. That diagnosis brings with it the likelihood of confinement in psychiatric facilities, a lifetime of anti-psychotic medication, and the stigma of being an outsider in a society that fears the 1% supposed to suffer from schizophrenia.
Yet recent research suggests the experience of hearing voices is more common than psychiatry has previously supposed, with as much as 10% of the population experiencing the phenomenon at some point. And many of them will not report it as a problem or be hospitalised, and will carry on having fulfilling and successful lives (high-functioning individuals who have heard voices include everyone from Socrates to Anthony Hopkins). Indeed, for many, hearing voices is a meaningful and positive experience.
The Hearing Voices Network, which was formed 25 years ago, heralds a new approach for people who hear voices. It rejects the classification of the phenomenon as the symptom of an illness, insisting that classifying the phenomenon as a dangerous illness is what makes people ill. The Network also rejects the power hierarchy in the classical psychiatric model, insisting that people who hear voices are often the best experts on their experience and how to cope with it - and that a grassroots, peer-led, mutual support model for helping people is better than relying solely top-down, psychiatric model. There are now 180 Hearing Voices groups in the UK, and there are also groups in 26 countries around the world - often working together with the NHS' psychiatric services.
Jacqui Dillon is a survivor of childhood abuse, a lifelong voice-hearer, and the chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England. She has contributed to many journals and books on hearing voices, and on the peer-led approach to mental health services. She is honorary lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of East London, and has also worked closely with the Centre for the Medical Humanities at Durham University. You can read her articles and hear some of her talks at her website here.
Join us for what promises to be a fascinating evening. It will cost £2 per person for the room hire.