Continue the Conversation

Continue the Conversation: Elyn Saks

In another addition of Continue the Conversation, we are watching an video done by Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology and Psychiatry and the Behavioural Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, Elyn Saks, who was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and was hospitalized three times for length periods. Saks told her story in June of 2012, and her honest speech about her struggles with her disease is chilling and powerful. She was given the medical title as Grave, meaning that she would likely suffer psychotic breaks and be unable to function as a member of society.

She defines schizophrenia as a brain disease, and delusions and hallucinations are hallmarks of this disease. Even though both are false, and admits that during a psychotic break she believes that she has killed millions of people. She describes it as having a nightmare, but you are awake. She also mentions something called word salad, when someone with schizophrenia begins to speak random words that don’t make sense.

“The schizophrenic mind is not split, it’s shattered,” Saks explains.

She shares her personal experiences and stories while dealing with her illness, and of what led to her final institutionalization when she went to ask her Law Professor for a extension on an assignment. The Professor brought her to the emergency room, where a team of Goons slammed Saks onto a metal bed and strapped her down. She was horrified, and was hospitalized against her will. She was restrained for very long periods of times, even though she was not violent during her stay.

Saks tells stories of her attempting to get off of her medication, thinking that if she could successfully get off the medication than her diagnosis had been a mistake. After a number of breaks, she finally went back onto her medication and has been able to function because of that and her connection to her school and friends who are aware of her illness.

Finally, Saks admits that she didn’t make her illness known until much later in her life because of the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. “If you hear nothing else today: hear this,” Saks said. “There are not schizophrenics, there are people with schizophrenia.” She encouraged that we need to look into more treatments for mental illness, and to stop criminalizing mental illness. She also thanks the press and entertainment industries, for the portrayals of people suffering from mental illness that informs the public.

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