Voices Calling

Voices Calling

by digby

I have always thought that one of the most horrible aspects of certain mental illnesses is the fact that the voices who are speaking to the sufferer seem to be so mean and violent. For instance, a homeless woman has lived in my neighborhood for years and I've heard her have the same argument with one of them over and over again in which she's threatening to call the cops unless they get off her property. It escalates until she's just screaming epithets. It's hugely stressful to the lady, obviously, and it's stressful to listen to. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to live with a raging argument in your head like that.

Anyway, in the wake of the navy yard shooting where there is evidence that the shooter was hearing voices, there's been some writing on the subject. This piece in the New York Times was especially interesting:
An unsettling question is whether the violent commands from these voices reflect our culture as much as they result from the disease process of the illness. In the past few years I have been working with some colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India, to compare the voice-hearing experience of people with schizophrenia in the United States and India.

The two groups of patients have much in common. Neither particularly likes hearing voices. Both report hearing mean and sometimes violent commands. But in our sample of 20 comparable cases from each country, the voices heard by patients in Chennai are considerably less violent than those heard by patients in San Mateo, Calif.

Describing his own voices, an American matter-of-factly explained, “Usually it’s like torturing people to take their eyes out with a fork, or cut off someone’s head and drink the blood, that kind of stuff.” Other Americans spoke of “war,” as in, “They want to take me to war with them,” or their “suicide voice” asking, “Why don’t you end your life?”

In Chennai, the commanding voices often instructed people to do domestic chores — to cook, clean, eat, bathe, to “go to the kitchen, prepare food.” To be sure, some Chennai patients reported disgusting commands — in one case, a woman heard the god Hanuman insist that she drink out of a toilet bowl. But in Chennai, the horrible voices people reported seemed more focused on sex. Another woman said: “Male voice, very vulgar words, and raw. I would cry.”
Isn't that wild? I guess it stands to reason that the voices would reflect the culture, and maybe it necessarily reflects the dark underbelly of that culture. But the dark underbellies of these two cultures are pretty starkly different, aren't they?

We've had a lot of incidents in which a mentally ill person gets a hold of guns and shooting up places filled with innocent bystanders. Now what do you suppose it is in our culture that could infiltrate the mind of the mentally ill person whose internal voices are telling him to "go to war."