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Wellington student masters wearable tech for health

A scarf that lets people hear voices sounds fanciful, but it’s Victoria University student Sarah Mokhtar’s answer to raising awareness of schizophrenia.

As part of her Masters in Design Innovation, Mokhtar has spent a year developing the wearable tech and an app to help people understand what it’s like to hear voices, one of the symptoms of the condition.

It’s a very personal venture for the student, whose big sister has schizophrenia. “I wanted to understand what it was like for my sibling to live with voices and also to help other people in the same situation as me,” she says.

The scarf works with a smartphone app that Mokhtar says makes it more accessible for a technology savvy target market. The two technologies work together, with the app playing voices and the scarf controlling what’s played by responding to the environment.

Mokhtar says there haven’t been any resources for siblings and family members to better understand this symptom of schizophrenia.

She wore the scarf around Wellington for a day to experience it for herself. “It was much more difficult than I anticipated, to the point where I actually avoided conversations with people because I didn’t want to have to cope with voices talking to me while trying to communicate normally.” 

Mokhtar also entered the scarf into an exhibition called Mental Blocks, an art initiative organised by mental health awareness group Changing Minds. The app is yet to be released.

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Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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