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WARREN Simulator lets people experience schizophrenia



Published: Fri, April 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The simulator allows people to experience the sights and sounds of schizophrenia.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Voices, images -- real or not?

It was difficult for several people who participated Thursday in Valley Counseling Services' virtual reality schizophrenia experience to know.

Likewise, it's impossible for the 2.5 million Americans who suffer from that form of mental illness to know the difference between hallucination and reality, said Alvin W. Beynon, president and chief executive of VCS.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that interferes with a person's feelings, behavior and ability to think clearly. Symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and agitation.

To raise awareness: "We wanted to do this so people would have an idea of what it is like to have the illness," Beynon said. "During this experience, the person walks through a grocery store while voices are being played and people are jumping out around you. Who is real?"

The simulator allows people to experience the sights and sounds of schizophrenia, Beynon noted.

"It was very interesting," said Martha Muldowney of Liberty. "I was in the hair business for 37 years, and I had some customers that had this, and I wanted to know what it would be like. It's scary."

Many who took part said they found the two-minute simulation disturbing.

"I think it gives people an insight to how the people with schizophrenia suffer," Beynon said. "It's hard to understand, and many people that came today are family members of someone with the illness. This brings some understanding."

Officials at the counseling center noted that an estimated 2,300 Trumbull County residents are schizophrenic.

Beynon noted that most of the time when the public hears about schizophrenia it's associated with a crime, such as the March 28 killing of a 6-year-old Austintown girl.

The girl's mother, Sherry Delker, is accused of running over the girl with her car. Her lawyer, Anthony Consoldane, says Delker has been treated for schizophrenia in the past.

"Just because a person has schizophrenia does not mean they are going to commit a crime," Beynon said.

Medications: He noted that new medications can treat the illness without negative side effects.

"The medicines are very expensive," Beynon said. "Because of their price, some people are discouraged from taking the drugs, but if patients cannot afford the medicines we try and work something out."

Officials say it's important for people to seek treatment as soon as they experience symptoms. "Symptoms become worse if they are not treated," Beynon said.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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