On Listening to Schizophrenia


I have written elsewhere on the subject of listening to those afflicted with mental illness, especially to those diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder without the assumption that they do not or cannot make sense.  In his own account of his psychosis, treatment, and recovery, John Perceval, an English gentleman who became psychotic in 1830 puts the case more clearly than I can:


That need to be understood, or at least for someone to be willing to listen and to try to understand is universal.  Someone in the throes of psychosis, or depression, or anxiety, or flashback of PTSD, or mania is no different.  Another thing which Mr. Perceval makes clear in his account in his very detailed telling of his hallucinations and delusions, and how he was dealt with by others, is that he remembered all of it.  I think that too often when someone is seen as not making sense, it is assumed they will not remember when they are in some less disturbed frame of mind.  He shows us that it ain’t necessarily so.
He has little good to say about the “lunatic doctors” who tried to treat him.  From his pen that term seems to carry more than one meaning.

I have found among the various blogs and posts only a few writers from the lands of schizophrenia and schizo-affective.  From knowing those I worked with who had these labels, I can see how that would be very difficult for many.  But, I hope that more of those who can, even with help, even poorly will try.  We, who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced such states of mind can only do no more than guess (often badly) what it is if the stories are not told.  If a first draft comes out like what is popularly called a “psychotogram,” that’s ok.  You can edit and rework it if need be.  If it comes as poetry, or with drawings (like a graphic novel, perhaps), or a vlog, that’s great.  There are eyes ready to read and ears ready to hear.

And to those who know such folk as family, friends, peers, and care givers, listen.  If you don’t understand, still do not dismiss.  However strange the story, see the person before the “disease.”  They really are there.

Since first writing this I’ve realized that the end of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is also significant in this context:


So, he who has heard the Mariner’s tale is also changed.  We are not told what he has learned or what he makes of it, but changed he is.  We are told only that he is wiser.  In the end, this is why such tales as Percival’s need to be told and heard, that both the teller and the hearer may find wisdom and, in the Mariner’s words, “loveth well.”


8 thoughts on “On Listening to Schizophrenia

  1. I think listening first, and trying to withold judgement is so key. I’m reminded of a saying I saw recently – “You don’t get to tell someone you haven’t hurt them” – or something like that, and so so much is based on subjectivity and personal experience.

    To feel safe enough to share your subjective is a big deal and could do with being better respected.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Robert, so lovely to connect via Michelle. My mouth dropped open when I read this:
    “That need to be understood, or at least for someone to be willing to listen and to try to understand is universal.”
    That’s exactly what we were discussing at Michelle’s.

    I’m a psych major with special interest in abnormal behavior, so I greatly appreciated your post and look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post was absolutely fascinating and you share such an important message. I have limited expertise in the mental health space, but have seen the effects first hand. I’ve been working in healthcare for over 25 years, and one huge gap is how we take care of the mental aspects of chronically ill people. It’s difficult to heal the body when the mind and the heart are hurting.
    ^^^ Love that you and Christy connected 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Mental illness – a dis-ease we will all, at some point in our lives, have to encounter, either in ourselves or in another…valuable advice here…thank you, Robert Wertzler, for addressing a vital issue!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Indeed, any illness; or dis-ease, is part of a learning process for both the sufferer and those impacted by it. Learning to listen is a great first step. Learning patience and compassion for the sufferer is a process that is very trying, however. As we learn to let go of our agenda to ‘heal’, we can open the door to understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been friends and at other times worked with many people labelled as ‘psychotic ‘schizophrenic’ etc and I tell you I long to meet a good old fashioned schizophrenic again. They are some of the kindest, gentlest, warm hearted, generous, intelligent people you’ll ever meet. They just talk a different language/arrange words in a different order, that’s all.
    If you take time to learn the language you will be enriched by a culture that should be the envy of the world. A different culture with a different language, a culture that is not allowed to speak it’s story. No wonder schizophrenic labbeled folk suffer but there are ways and means of changing folks minds.

    Liked by 1 person

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