CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The participant's day begins with waking up groggy, stumbling to the kitchen for a freshly brewed cup of black coffee and looking over the day's headlines as a cool breeze blows through an open window.
Then, the room quickly turns dark and rigid with an inner dialogue demanding "don't do that," "you're stupid," and "no, do that" when the participant reaches for pills. Another voice says the opposite — "you have to do that," "nobody likes you" and "do it." All the while, another voice chants "poison, poison, poison . . ." in this twisted reality.
The weatherman on TV switches from the forecast to talking directly to the participant. A loud knock on the door is startling, and the multiple voices argue who it could be and what the person wants. That cup of coffee turns to bubbling hot sludge, and the pizza from the deliveryman turns to lava.
A brief simulation of a psychotic episode in a patient with schizophrenia gives participants an idea of what a person with a severe mental illness goes through every day.
"This can help people better understand what it's like," said Mark Drennan, the executive director of West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association.
"Growing up, if you told me child abuse existed, I wouldn't believe it. I just never knew of such a thing because I didn't experience it. But clearly it exists. Schizophrenia certainly exists, but if you haven't come in contact with it, it's not at the forefront of your mind."
In light of recent violent events, local health care professionals are shining a brighter light on mental illness.
Johnson & Johnson company Janssen brought its schizophrenia-simulation product, named MINDSTORM, to the downtown West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association office Wednesday for guests to experience.
MINDSTORM is a virtual hallucination tool that allows participants to know what it may feel, smell and sound like to experience symptoms of this world-altering disease.
The machine takes users along a six-minute journey through a typical day, which begins with a bright day and then veers into a deforming and surreal experience. Participants view the experience through goggles and also have a fan, which simulates a breeze, and another machine that simulates smells — like that of the coffee.
Sheila Kelly, the clinic director at Starlight Behavioral Health Services in Huntington, said about 1 percent of the population has some sort of severe mental illness, and if depression and anxiety disorders are included, that number rises to about 6 percent.
Kelly said that while modern psychiatry provides medicine to manage certain disorders, it's necessary for people to actually be diagnosed and take the medication, which has side effects.
The hope, Drennan said, is for more people to understand what it's like to suffer from a severe mental illness, which could in turn help provide better health care.