Text: Erik Freudenreich
Photo: Laurianne Aeby (SAM)

"Listening to someone who's suffering from psychosis is critical"

Ten years ago, Fribourg-native Blaise Rochat experienced a psychotic break. Today, he works to improve the relationship between patients and their entourage.

“My life changed dramatically at age 46. I had a job and I was married with a child. In fact, I was working in the healthcare sector, first as a psychiatric nurse, then as a professor at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Fribourg. That’s when I experienced a series of setbacks, including a cancer diagnosis, septicaemia, and an emotional blow. I think these snow-balling problems led to my psychotic break.

It resulted in hallucinations that became progressively worse with time. I started hearing voices and having conversations with them. Little by little, I walled myself off from the outside world. My interactions were limited to the hundreds of voices I heard in my mind. Eighty per cent of them were threatening. At some points during my hallucinations, I was truly terrified. It was a really difficult time for me. The situation became untenable for my loved ones.

When I was hospitalised, it seemed like I barely spoke with the staff. It was better around the time I received my diagnosis because I felt they were really trying to understand me.

Once they put a name to it, it was as if the suffering I was experiencing on the inside suddenly became meaningless because it was just part of a hallucination. This acute period of my breakdown lasted around four years.

When I started to feel better, I took stock of the damage. I went through a period of depression and doubt regarding my abilities and my identity. During this phase, I reached out to a patient association. I met people who accepted me for who I was and encouraged me to take up my responsibilities again. That really helped me regain confidence in myself and re-establish social ties.

These days, I often give lectures in classes for future healthcare professionals. I bring a dual perspective as both a patient and a former healthcare worker.

I try to impress upon them the importance of listening to what the patient is going through.

I also share my story on my website (editor’s note: experience-schizophrenique.ch) and at conferences for the general public. Once again, I insist on the importance of establishing a dialogue between patients, loved ones, and professionals. Right now, I have very few psychotic symptoms, but I still have doubts about how I would react and my ability to face a highly stressful situation. My story is unique and valuable – not in the least because my breakdown occurred at a later age than average. Still, it’s often a source of hope for the people who come to listen to me.”