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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 10:18 GMT
What it's like to have schizophrenia
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Schizophrenics often feel isolated
The Second Life experiment allows a glimpse into schizophrenia
Incessant noise, a constant babble of voices pounding in my head - and competing for space in my brain.

Some are critical and highly vocal - others urge me to get a gun and end my life.

The whole world appears to conspire against me and as I walk down an otherwise deserted hospital corridor I am bombarded with terrifying images.

I stare at a reflection in a mirror and am greeted by a gaunt face, with bleeding eyes.

'The floor falls away'

Before my eyes, books and newspapers change their titles to obscene or frightening ones.

And even the floor I am walking falls away from me, leaving me walking on stepping stones above a bank of clouds.

Schizophrenia is a kind of modern day leprosy
Dr Lars Hansen

For me, this terrifying world was just life on a computer screen, where my character can briefly see what life with schizophrenia is like.

Using the experiences of people with the condition, Dr Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, has harnessed the popular simulation world of Second Life to give an insight into living with the condition.

Second Life has almost five million members and many thousands of those are regular visitors to the online world.

While many virtual worlds are games that encourage users to live out a fantasy existence, Second Life aims to be a more playful version of the real world.

The virtual world has been in the news a lot recently as real world firms establish in-game presences. BBC Radio One has rented an island in the game that will be used to stage concerts.

And now, on a password protected section of the world, invited guests get the chance to experience the frightening world of schizophrenia.


Jo Loughran, from the mental health charity Rethink, said she would like to see the experience available to more.

"We welcome anything that proposes better understanding.

We welcome anything that proposes better understanding
Jo Loughran

"It broadens people's experiences and narrows the gap between 'us and them'."

And Dr Lars Hansen, consultant psychiatrist at the Fordingbridge Hospital, Hampshire, said those with the condition are being blighted by stigma and anything that can help to re-educate should be welcomed.

Image from Second Life site
A voice tells you to take the gun

"Schizophrenia is a kind of modern day leprosy.

"I do feel that the general public's worst misconception about schizophrenia is that it somehow remains in their minds an intractable degenerative condition that we can't treat - and this is so far from the truth.

"I would say stigma is probably one of the most important issues because it affects people's lives in such a devastating way.


"I think that over the years, just the years I've been a psychiatrist, there has been a very positive movement in the right direction, a rapid progress I think, both pharmacologically and also therapy wise.

"We have much better, much more efficacious medication at our disposal now than what we did just 10 years ago.

"We can now treat patients with a modern medication that has an effect on several aspects of both the positive and the negative symptoms.

An image from Second Life site
A reflection's eyes started to bleed

"At the same time, we can give patients this medication without running the enormous risk of overweight sedation, and sexual dysfunction.

"This is really something that keeps people away from treatment, or has done in the past

"So it really is a new weapon in our armoury."

His patient Nick agreed. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly after his A' Levels and said he is frustrated by the way people portray his condition.

"People on the whole aren't really interested, and if I do talk about schizophrenia, they often look a bit worried and decide to turn away."

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