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Columbia Magazine: Learning to live with voices in your head

Columbia Magazine: Learning to live with voices in your head

Publication & project summariesAbout OnTrackNY

By giving young people with schizophrenia more control over their care, a Columbia-led program aims to help them lead fuller lives.


Ambar Martinez began experiencing paranoid delusions six years ago, around the time her father died of a heart attack. Then eighteen years old and a sophomore at Syracuse, Martinez had trouble accepting his death, and so her mind provided an escape hatch: her father wasn’t really dead, it told her. Rather, her family and friends were orchestrating an elaborate hoax to make it seem like he had died, for the sole purpose of causing her pain. At her father’s funeral, Martinez suspected that the other mourners were plotting to humiliate her. She also heard a voice in her head — a young man’s voice, reedy and snide — that mocked her for crying, saying she was weak, pathetic, and foolish.

“I remember feeling disoriented at the service, but I knew the voice was real,” recalls Martinez, who is now twenty-four. “I was angry that everybody else was acting like they didn’t hear it.”

When Martinez returned to Syracuse, her condition rapidly deteriorated. Until then a gifted student who juggled an active social life with membership in hip-hop and Latin-dance troupes and other artistic endeavors, she started skipping classes, avoiding her friends, and hiding in her dorm for days on end. She brushed off anyone who asked about her well-being, fearing they were scheming to harm her. Meanwhile, the voice in her head became louder and more persistent, criticizing her every thought and action, telling her that she was ugly, stupid, boring, and despised. Martinez began to argue with the voice, sometimes yelling out loud to try to make it stop.

Read the full article & find out how OnTrackNY supported Ambar on Columbia Magazine >

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OnTrackNY would not be possible without the support of our partners:

New York State Psychiatric Institute
New York State Office of Mental Health
Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc.
Center for Practice Innovations
Columbia University Department of Psychiatry