The 1st World Hearing Voices Day was held on Thursday, 14th September 2006.In November 2005, Louise Pembroke, a voice hearer and psychiatric survivor from England proposed that INTERVOICE should hold its own World Hearing Voices Day in 2006 to:
- celebrate the hearing of voices as part of the diversity of human experience and increase awareness of the fact you can hear voices and be healthy
- challenge negative attitudes towards people who hear voices or the incorrect assumption that this is in itself a sign of an illness, an assumption made about them that is not based on their own experiences, is stigmatising, isolating and makes people ill
- raise awareness of the issues facing the estimated 4% of women, men and children who hear voices across the world.
For a mostly unfunded network this was a challenge indeed, but one that was taken up by our members with energy and creativity and resulted in an impressive array of events and activities that were held in 14 countries across the world – from Australia to Finland. See below for further details about the events we held.
Every year since 2006 we have celebrated Voice Hearing Days in different ways:
The theme of the World Hearing Voices Day 2006 addressed whether hearing voices should be considered an illness or as part of the diversity of human experience that does not in itself have to result in an illness.
Jacqui Dillon, Chair of the English Hearing Voices Network said:
I have been a voice hearer since I was a small child as a consequence of serious abuse that I experienced throughout my childhood. My own experiences within mental health services were so damaging and negative that I was passionate about improving services so that they would be helpful to people in mental distress rather than hindering them. When I joined the Network I saw a powerful means of making change, which enabled voice hearers to reclaim their experiences and the Hearing Voices Network has enabled me to make changes in my world and to become part of a collective voice for change. For someone who was told that she would never recover, life could not be better!
In announcing the World Hearing Voices Day, The President of INTERVOICE, Dutch psychiatrist, Professor Marius Romme said:
Because of the fears and misunderstandings in society and within psychiatry about hearing voices, they are generally regarded as a symptom of an illness, something that is negative, to be got rid of and consequently the content and meaning of the voice experience is rarely discussed. In contrast, our work and research has shown that over 70% of people who hear voices can point to a traumatic life event that triggered their voices; that talking about voices and what they mean is a very effective way to reduce anxiety and isolation; and that even when the voices are overwhelming and seemingly destructive they often have an important message for the hearer. With the support of the worldwide hearing voices network, voice hearers, some of whom have spent long periods of time in psychiatric care have reclaimed their lives and are now able to say they hear voices and accept them as part of themselves. Our journey to better understand the voice hearing experience has now been going on for almost twenty years and we thought this would be a good time to celebrate our achievements and to make our work better known across the world.
This research and work on hearing voices represents a real challenge to the current understanding of the voice hearing experience, provides a message of hope and the possibility of recovery from serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
2007 marked the 20th year of achievement since the hearing voices movement took its first step, when in 1987, Dutch voice hearer Patsy Hage challenged Marius Romme, her psychiatrist, with her criticism of his clinical approach to her voices. She pointed out that rather than using voices only in order to make an illness diagnosis it would be more useful if he helped her learn to cope with the experience. He listened, acted and the rest is history. From this beginning INTERVOICE, has grown into an international network with 19 participating countries.
As Marius Romme, the President of INTERVOICE recalls:
In 1987, I had no idea the impact that the discovery that accepting and making sense of voices was a helpful alternative was going to have. Yet, after twenty years of work we have built a unique and formidable movement of voice hearers and allies that has brought about a big change in the way hearing voices are regarded and has found new ways of helping people overwhelmed by their voices.
The international awareness day intends to combat the secrecy and stigma surrounding hearing voices. The aim is to celebrate voice hearing as part of the diversity of human experience and raise awareness of the fact that hearing voices, in and of itself, is not a sign of mental illness — indeed many people hear voices, such as painters, author’s, spiritual mediums and others are sought after, for their voice hearing capabilities.
Each year Hearing Voices Networks and Groups worldwide mark the occasion with an activity or event to:
- Raise awareness of the phenomenon of hearing voices
- Challenge negative attitudes towards people who hear voices
- Challenge incorrect assumptions about voice hearing as a sign of an illness,
- Raise awareness of the issues of stigma and discrimination faced by people diagnosed with a mental illness, and
- Give voice to the call for dignity, liberty and self determination
The centrepiece of this years celebration is a conference held in London, hosted by Together, an organisation based in the UK that works with people who have mental distress, to help them get what they want from life – and feel happier. This conference aims to bring together experts with experience of hearing voices and professionals to share their understanding of voice-hearing and to explore exciting new non-medical ways to work with voices.
Launching World Hearing Voice Day. Professor Marius Romme said:
Typically, in Western medical thinking hearing voices has always been associated with mental illness and frequently seen as a symptom of schizophrenia. Yet, we discovered many people who hear voices do not have a mental illness and never seek help. For this reason we are prepared to accept a range of explanations offered by people who hear voices, including spiritual ones, and believe it is essential to the process of recovery from overwhelming voices to understand the meaning of the voices to the voice hearer.
Whilst we are finding more holisitic solutions to voices that cause mental distress then those offered by psychiatry. It is very important to stress that in our view voices are an aspect of human differentness, rather than a mental health problem. As with homosexuality, which was also regarded by psychiatry in recent times as an illness, the main issue we have to confront is the denial of the human rights to people who hear voices and our main task is to change the way society perceives the experience. Only if can we do this, do we believe psychiatry will change its mind about voices. That is why holding a World Hearing Voices Day is so important
World Hearing Voices Day 2008 will see the third international celebration of the experience of hearing voices instigated by Louise Pembroke. We usually hold the day on the 14th September, this year that day is a Sunday.
Our international awareness day intends to combat the secrecy and stigma surrounding hearing voices. The aim is to celebrate voice hearing as part of the diversity of human experience and raise awareness of the fact that hearing voices, in and of itself, is not a sign of mental illness — indeed many people hear voices, such as painters, author’s, spiritual mediums and others are sought after, for their voice hearing capabilities.
Events held to commemorate the day (and in the days before and after) included national conferences, seminars, local meetings, picnics in parks, information stalls and booths in town and city centres, celebratory parades, competitions, book readings, music shows, film screenings, dance events, voice hearing simulations, press conferences and press releases.
INTERVOICE held a meeting attended by over 120 voice hearers and INTERVOICE members from Monday 14 till Wednesday to the 16 September 2009 in Valkenburg (near Maastricht), Netherlands.
This meeting was followed by a highly successful congress on the 17th and 18th September, in the MECC in Maastricht.
At this congress over 90 voice hearers, researchers and therapists presented key note speeeches, ran master classes and themed presentations focusing on important aspects of the recovery process. The Congress also included discussion around difficult issues such as the disease concept of schizophrenia and the use of medication. The themes and stories heard at the Congress went beyond theory and engaged participants in the everyday lives of voice hearers and the possibility of recovery.
Over 350 psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, managers, people hearing voices, families and policymakers from 20 countries were present at the largest event of its kind in the world.