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Schizophrenia, Global Health, & The Hearing Voices Movement

Updated on December 8, 2019

Are you scared of someone with schizophrenia?

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What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder involving distortions in thinking, perception, language, emotions, and one's sense of self and behavior. People living with the disorder often experience visual and/or auditory hallucinations and hold fixed beliefs that most people believe to be false, known as delusions. Researchers believe there are both genetic and environmental causes, and that perhaps some people are more vulnerable to schizophrenic symptoms triggered by stress.


The "Global Burden" of Schizophrenia

Although less common than other psychiatric disorders, still over 23 million people are affected by schizophrenia.

➼ Onset usually occurs between ages 18 and 25 for men, and 25 to 35 in women.

➼ Over 50% of individuals affected lack appropriate care.

➼ 90% live in low- and middle- income countries.

➼ The disorder makes it difficult to study and work, especially in countries with weak social welfare and healthcare systems.

Stigma Survey in France

Stigma Surrounding Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is often misunderstood and those affected face discrimination, social exclusion, and violations of their human rights.

➼ A study in France found 49% of people feel uncomfortable around someone with schizophrenia and 37% feel scared. Shockingly, 79% would reject watching someone's children if they had schizophrenia and 58% would reject renting them a room.


The World Health Organization's mhGAP

In 2008, WHO launched the Mental Health Gap Action Program (mhGAP). The program works to expand mental health services through technical guidance, tools, and training packages.

➼ The focus is on capacity building for non-specialized health-care providers.

➼ Over 100 Member States have signed onto the program.

➼ The Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 outlines steps for healthcare systems to develop appropriate mental health services.

➼ The plan emphasizes shifting services from institutions to the community.


The Hearing Voices Movement

This movement, pioneered by organizations like the Hearing Voices network, offer an alternative view of auditory hallucinations. It proposes that hearing voices is not inherently a mental illness.

➼ The voices people hear often are meaningful and can be reasoned with.

➼ People who hear voices should be empowered and encouraged to deal with past issues, stress, or trauma.

➼ Antipsychotics may help patients in early stages of treatment as they learn to live contently with their symptoms.

➼ People should maintain their agency and choose a treatment plan that works best for them.

Additional Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or

US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or Text HOME to 741741

Hearing Voices Network: or Email


Angermeyer MC, Matschinger H, Carta MG, Schomerus G. Changes in the perception of mental illness stigma in Germany over the last two decades. Eur Psychiatry. 2014;29: 390–395. Pmid:24321774

Angermeyer MC et al. Attitudes towards psychiatric treatment and people with mental illness: changes over two decades. Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;203(2):146-51. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.122978. Epub 2013 Jun 20.

Balter, Michael. Schizophrenia’s Tangled Roots. Sapiens: Anthropology/Everything Human. Epub 19 JUL 2017.

Blackman, Lisa (2001). Hearing voices: embodiment and experience. London New York: Free Association Books. ISBN 9781853435331.

Johnstone, Lucy (2011). "Voice hearers are people with problems, not patients with illnesses". In Romme, Marius A.J.; Escher, Sandra D. (eds.). Psychosis as a personal crisis: an experience based approach. Hove, East Sussex New York, New York: Routledge for The International Society for the Psychological Treatments of the Schizophrenias and other pychoses (ISPS). pp. 27–36.

Luhrmann, T. M. “The Violence in Our Heads.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Sept. 2013,

McCarthy-Jones, Simon (2012). "The struggle for meanings". In McCarthy-Jones, Simon (ed.). Hearing voices: the histories, causes, and meanings of auditory verbal hallucinations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 346–54.

“Schizophrenia.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization,

Schomerus G, Matschinger H, Angermeyer MC. Continuum beliefs and stigmatizing attitudes towards persons with schizophrenia, depression and alcohol dependence. Psychiatry Res. 2013;209: 665–669. Pmid:23465293

Pescosolido BA, Medina TR, Martin JK, Long JS. The “backbone” of stigma: Identifying the global core of public prejudice associated with mental illness. Am J Public Health. 2013;103: 853–860. pmid:23488508

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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