Wednesday 1 May 2024

Stereotypes about young people who hear voices

Negative stereotypes associated with people who report unusual experiences and beliefs cause lasting harm and often undermine agency. In a series of workshops with the young people of the Voice Collective, facilitated by Fiona Malpass (Mind in Camden) and designed by Lisa Bortolotti and Kathleen Murphy-Hollis, we discussed the challenges that hearing voices poses for young people, at home, at school, and in healthcare settings.

The result of our conversations was a script created by the young people who participated in the workshops, where they described three forms of negative stereotyping that cause harm: 

  • perceived dangerousness, leading to the thought that the young person poses a threat; 
  • perceived lack of capacity or incompetence, leading to the thought that the young people cannot achieve anything valuable or challenging; 
  • perceived difference or weakness, leading to social exclusion.
The script was turned into an animated video, produced by Squideo (click below to watch).

Snake or dangerousness


Perceived dangerousness is represented by Snake, who does not really pose a threat to humans but is feared and kept at a distance. Contrary to popular belief, most snakes are neither venomous nor dangerous. Snakes defend themselves if someone disturbs or attacks them but are not aggressive towards humans. Yet, many people make assumptions about their being dangerous. So, Snake in the video is right that his bad reputation is undeserved.

Butterfly or incompetence


Perceived lack of capacity is represented by Butterfly. Although she is an active pollinator contributing to the life of the garden, Bee teases her and suggests that she is lazy and useless, based on her past as a caterpillar, when she was seen eating all day long. Seeing a chewed leaf might make us think that caterpillars are good for nothing but destroying plants. However, caterpillars are actually very important to their environment even before they become pollinators. They prevent vegetation from growing too quickly and depleting nutrients in the soil. So Bee's attitude towards caterpillars and butterflies in our video is unjustified.

Wolf or exclusion


Perceived difference or weakness is represented by Wolf. Wolf got an injury and because of that he was left behind by his pack. The other wolves assumed he would be a burden, unable to keep up and hunt for himself. But there is no reason that his small, temporary injury would have made his contributions to the pack less valuable in the long term. He would have probably needed some support until the injury was healed, and then he would have been in a position to run and hunt as fast as the other members of the pack.

A safe space

Snake, Wolf and Butterfly in the clearing

Being treated as dangerous for no good reason, being considered as a burden and nothing else, and being excluded by shared decision-making, are all harmful (and sadly common) experiences for young people who hear voices. Young people struggling with their mental health have a lot to contribute and with some support they can continue to pursue the projects that are important to them.

In the video, Snake, Wolf and Butterfly meet in the clearing to share their experiences and support each other. What happens in the clearing, sharing experiences in an environment that is safe and non-judgemental, is what happens in the Voice Collective. Young people who hear voices and have other unusual experiences or beliefs come together and connect with people who are in a similar situation. 

The video is an invitation to go beyond the stereotypes and see the person, not the label. To learn more about myths and truths about hearing voices, visit The Voice Collective website.

You find The Wolf, the Snake and the Butterfly and other animated videos introducing philosophical issues in The Philosophy Garden, a virtual philosophy museum gathering and producing resources for young people, educators, and the general public. 

The Philosophy Garden is a project run by EPIC co-investigator Lisa Bortolotti, with the collaboration of Kathleen Murphy-Hollies, Anna Ichino, and Fer Zambra.

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