Online gallery explores the lived experience of hallucinations | News

Online gallery explores the lived experience of hallucinations

Research with CPFT is investigating the nature of hallucinations and helping people to express how they experience them in creative ways, supported by the Trust’s specialist Clozapine Clinic.

Hallucinations can involve hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, or sensing the presence of people or things that others do not. They occur in a wide range of physical and mental health conditions, like schizophrenia, and research suggests that up to 1 in 10 healthy people may experience a hallucination at some point in their lives.

CPFT’s Clozapine Clinic partnered with the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and Cambridge University Hospitals’ Parkinson’s Disease Research Clinic, on a project that linked people experiencing hallucinations with local artists to co-create artworks for the Sound and Vision digital exhibition.

Dr Emilio Fernandex-Egea Clozapine Clinic lead and consultant psychiatrist Dr Emilio Fernandez-Egea (right) said: “We were able to connect two people at the clinic with the artists to help them represent their experiences in paintings. They met on several occasions to develop the ideas for the piece together, and it has been a very therapeutic project.

"Some of the insights they have shared in clinic are now expressed and powerfully brought to life to communicate what it is really like to live with schizophrenia.The gallery includes extracts of their conversations and explanations of the artworks, and everyone can enjoy it online to learn more about hallucinations and the symptoms we treat.”

Colleen Rollins, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry led the Sound and Vision project and is working on research exploring how brain structure and function supports hallucinations. She also attended CPFT’s Conversations with Experts by Experience (CEbE) programme helping researchers to learn first-hand from teachers with lived experience of mental health conditions.

Colleen Rollins headshot Colleen (left) said: “I've had the great pleasure of working on this project, which aims to compare and contrast the content and quality of hallucinations experienced by people with schizophrenia to those experienced by people with Parkinson's disease, and also the wider population. One of the most fascinating aspects of hallucinations is how commonly they are experienced by the general public, often following a life event such as a bereavement, but also without any particular trigger.

"We want to help reduce stigma and encourage people to view the artworks and complete our online survey, so that we can better understand hallucinations and how they can be managed. We are indebted to our participants who kindly volunteered their time to share their experiences. This study would not have been possible without the generous support of the staff and patients of the Clozapine Clinic.”

The survey aims to understand the diverse range of hallucinations experienced by the general population, their quality and content, how and why they arise - but no experience is needed!

Anyone can take part and find more information on the Sound and Vision website:

Participants with lived experience have shared their reactions to the artworks and project and what it means to them:

"You’ve shown me that you do understand how I feel and I've always thought other people wouldn't understand. So that is a plus for me, out of two short meetings, if you see what I mean."

"I can see how I feel, in those pictures."

"I'm loving the paintings, it's beautiful."

"I was really interested in what had been done and I really liked the ideas. I wasn't sure what to expect if I'm honest. I was thinking before that maybe it would be something that I'd find uncomfortably evoking, or something like that? And it wasn't, it was just a very interesting perspective on what I thought."

"It's also comforting to know that other people are seeing the same things as me."

"It’s been very interesting to sort of investigate. A lot of things are clearer to me, talking about things."

This research is supported by CPFT and the University of Cambridge, with funding from the Guarantors of Brain medical charity, the Isaac Newton Trust charity and the University of Cambridge Public Engagement Starter Fund.

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