For most of us, mental illnesses are concepts we can comprehend in the abstract — but actually empathizing with someone who suffers from one on a daily basis is another story entirely. There are often no physical symptoms for conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. And, because there's still a stigma in this country that prevents us from talking openly about these disorders (and few accurate representations of them in the media), it's difficult to understand how they work in reality.
With that in mind, Anderson Cooper took part in an experiment designed to replicate the experience of someone suffering with schizophrenia. Cooper spent a day with a simulation of typical schizophrenia symptoms (i.e. voices) playing constantly in his ear; he was asked to perform simple tasks and go about his day. As you'll see in the video above, what begins as an annoying distraction devolves into something a bit more distressing as the voices start yelling — and the normally cool, calm, and collected Cooper fights the urge to yell back.
Of course, Cooper is only a journalist, and there's a limit to what we can learn about schizophrenia from watching him trying to bumble his way through a workday with an angry soundtrack in his earbuds. For a more nuanced, authentic account of the disorder, check out Eleanor Longden, a psychologist and schizophrenia activist, in the video below. Longden — who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a college freshman and was subsequently hospitalized and heavily medicated — describes feeling helpless and alienated from those around her who couldn't (or wouldn't) understand her condition. Her TED Talk is a fascinating, heartbreaking look at just how deeply a diagnosis like this affects patients' lives.
To see the TED Talk and try the simulator for yourself, click through to the next page.
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Want to see for yourself what it's like to suffer from schizophrenia? Put your headphones on and give yourself the Anderson Cooper treatment with the simulation below. Fair warning, though: This may be the most productivity-destroying experiment you conduct all week.