Being crazy is hard, but it's worth the effort. Especially if you're a cop, paramedic, or social worker who may someday need to deal with a person having a psychotic episode. At those times, empathy can be crucial.
That's where Virtual Hallucinations comes in. The training device, created by Janssen L.P., is a rig with earphones and goggles that plunges the wearer into the mind of a serious schizophrenic.
The system offers two interactive scenarios. In one, you're riding a bus in which other riders appear and disappear, birds of prey claw at the windows, and voices hiss, "He's taking you back to the FBI!" The other features a trip to the drugstore, where the pharmacist seems to be handing you poison instead of pills, and hostile customers stare at you in disgust.
Developed with psychiatrists and endorsed by advocates for the mentally ill, Virtual Hallucinations is being used by law enforcement, corrections, and health care professionals in at least half a dozen states.
"It's very effective," says Margaret Stout, executive director of the Alliance of the Mentally Ill of Iowa, who's tried it herself.
"It really allows you to feel like your mind is just not working well." For cops who have gone through the training, she says, that can make all the difference when it comes to understanding what a mentally ill person is going through. And there's nothing crazy about that.