Sue Belmore - Program Manager
Voices Unplugged is a multimedia mental health project that aims to reduce the stigma associated with hearing voices and give a voice to people who hear voices. Personal stories are shared via an online portal.
The preparatory research was conducted in partnership with support from Dr Neil Thomas at Swinburne University. It is a community project run primarily by people who hear voices, who are often diagnosed with mental illness - most commonly schizophrenia or another psychosis, and sometimes dissociative disorders.
Sue Belmore, Program Manager for Voices Vic at UnitingCare Prahran Mission, reported on the outcomes of this ongoing project.
The aims of the project were to:
- Inform the public and other voice hearers about the experience of hearing voices
- Help voice hearers feel less alone by accessing the stories of others
- Break down stigma around the experience of hearing voices
- Allow people who hear voices an opportunity to use social media to tell their story and reach a wider audience with their message
- Provide a unique short term employment opportunity for some voice hearers
What outcomes were achieved?
This project recorded the stories of voice hearers in multimedia format, and made them available online on a new website and in a variety of other social media platforms.
One participant commented: “It has been simply amazing to connect with others, who, like me, hear voices. I did not realise how many people feel like I do. I now feel less alone and have hope in my future.”
Social media and YouTube play an important role in passing on information and adding people's voices to everyday stories about recovery.
The project provided a platform where people built vocational and social skills for a team of voice hearers who have experienced long-term disadvantage. The project also created meaningful paid work positions for people who would otherwise find employment opportunities limited.
By co-producing their stories with professional expertise, carers, family, friends, community members and other people with lived experience of voice hearing and being in-charge in the running of the project, it was possible to directly assist one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia. Voice hearers often have low recovery rates, long-term unemployment, homelessness, poverty, isolation, hopelessness and very high mortality.
In addition to the films being shared on social media, they are now used in training programs by many mental health workers and organisations including Voices Vic. Most recently these have been screened at the Alfred Hospital education centre to an audience of clinical staff being trained in the hearing voices approach (HVA).
How were obstacles overcome?
Although there were stories from voice hearers on YouTube and social media, these were mostly from overseas. It was new for voice hearers in Australia to be “out there” with their stories. Finding people who were willing to openly “tell the world” their story proved more of a challenge than was anticipated.
Voices Vic, a program run by UnitingCare Prahran Mission, was able to use its extensive voices network to reach people who were willing to take part in the project.
The project overcame some significant hurdles, including time lost to organise the 2013 World Hearing Voices Congress, and some technical delays in getting equipment ready and software installed and working.
What worked well?
- Brought people together who shared a common human experience
- Learning new skills
- Provided a voice in the community
- Social and professional interaction
The message of hope and recovery delivered by the short films continues to help decrease stigma around this topic, and they communicate that recovery is not always getting rid of their voices but learning to live meaningful lives. An example of one of their short films: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffNy2zfkjnk
On completion of the short films, there was a launch held at UnitingCare Prahran Mission to show a number of the films. The project is highlighted on the Voices Vic Unplugged project web page: http://www.prahranmission.org.au/ourservices/voices-vic.