A tale of mental illness — from the inside, Elyn Saks

A-Celebration-of-Women-Feature-Banner-e1352628808407 (1) 512

Elyn R. Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, an expert in mental health law and a Mac­Arthur Foundation Fellowship winner. Saks lives with schizophrenia and has written about her experience with the illness in her award-winning best-selling autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold, published by Hyperion Books in 2007. Saks is also a cancer survivor.

elyn-saks-11

“Is it okay if I totally trash your office?”

It’s a question Elyn Saks once asked her doctor, and it wasn’t a joke. A legal scholar, in 2007 Saks came forward with her own story of schizophrenia, controlled by drugs and therapy but ever-present. In this powerful talk, she asks us to see people with mental illness clearly, honestly and compassionately.

Academic background
Saks was an attorney in Connecticut and instructor at the University of Bridgeport School of Law before joining the USC Law faculty in 1989. She graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University before earning her master of letters from Oxford University and her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she also edited the Yale Law Journal. She holds a Ph.D. in psychoanalytic science from the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Saks is a member of Phi Beta Kappa; an affiliate member of the American Psychoanalytic Association; a board member of Mental Health Advocacy Services; and a member of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Foundation, Robert J. Stoller Foundation, and American Law Institute. Prof. Saks won both the Associate’s Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship and the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award in 2004.

Mental illness research
Saks experienced her first symptoms of mental illness at eight years old, but she had her first full-blown episode when a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University. Another breakdown happened while a student at Yale Law School, after which she “ended up forcibly restrained and forced to take anti-psychotic medication”.

Saks lives with schizophrenia and has written about her experience with the illness in her award-winning best-selling autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness published by Hyperion Books in 2007. Saks is also a cancer survivor. She emphasizes that “illness of any kind need not define an individual, while remarking on the different ways that mental and physical illnesses are regarded”.

Saks says “there’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life.”

In recent years, researchers have begun talking about mental health care in the same way addiction specialists speak of recovery — the lifelong journey of self-treatment and discipline that guides substance abuse programs.

Elyn R. Saks at University of California campusThe idea remains controversial: managing a severe mental illness is more complicated than simply avoiding certain behaviors. Approaches include “medication (usually), therapy (often), a measure of good luck (always) — and, most of all, the inner strength to manage one’s demons, if not banish them”.

That strength can come from any number of places, these former patients say: love, forgiveness, faith in God, a lifelong friendship.

Saks says “we who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives, if we have the right resources.

Saks has spoken of the Mental Health America Village in Long Beach that provides best practice integrated services, giving all the needed services and support in one venue. She has also said that her former psychotherapist in England does many home visits, saving the cost of hospitalisation.

On several occasions Saks has spoken to American Psychiatric Association members about being a successful professional who has had severe mental illness and her perspective on psychiatric care. In June 2012, Saks gave a TED talk advocating for compassion toward people with mental illness.

Saks has been researching high-functioning people with schizophrenia in Los Angeles, who suffer from “mild delusions or hallucinatory behavior“. They are successful technicians, and medical, legal and business professionals. Many are studying toward college or graduate degrees.

Awards

Saks in 2009 was selected as a MacArthur Foundation fellow, receiving a $500,000 “genius grant“. Saks used the money to establish the Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics, which highlights one important mental health issue per academic year and is a collaborative effort between seven USC departments. Saks has had a hospital ward named after her — “The Elyn Saks Ward” — at Pelham Woods Hospital in Dorking, England. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2015 SUMMIT

The POST 2015 WOMAN: “Mental Health …is an Inside Job!”

TORONTO, CANADA – MARCH 8

iwd_eng

A-Celebration-of-Women-Feature-Banner-e1352628808407 (1) 512

Speak Your Mind

*

Copyright 2014 @ A Celebration of Women™ The World Hub for Women Leaders That Care