What is it like to be profoundly mentally ill? How does it affect the person and how does it affect the people he or she comes into contact with.

Elyn Sacks is bright and articulate; she is also living proof that mental illness can strike anyone at any it; mental illness is truly no respecter of persons!

Why you should listen:

As a law scholar and writer,  Elyn Saks speaks for the rights of mentally ill people. It’s a gray area: Too often, society’s first impulse is to make decisions on their behalf. But it’s a slippery slope from in loco parentis to a denial of basic human rights. Saks has brilliantly argued for more autonomy — and in many cases for a restoration of basic human dignity.

Who is she:

In 2007, deep into her career, she dropped a bombshell — her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold. In it, she reveals the depth of her own schizophrenia, now controlled by drugs and therapy. Clear-eyed and honest about her own condition, the book lent her new ammunition in the quest to protect the rights and dignity of the mentally ill.

In 2009, she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow.


  1. Early in the talk she described her psychotic symptoms. What were they? What were the symptoms that she did not manifest?
  1. What does she mean when she says, “…everyone becomes psychotic in their own way”?
  1. It has been said that schizophrenics manifest “word salad”, what does that mean?
  1. What was her experience with mechanical restraints? How does this shape her thinking about treatment to this day?
  1. What was the effect of medication on her behavior and beliefs? Also, what was the impact of social support?
  1. Write a journal entry for TODAY as if you were schizophrenic. Find another person who has done the same task and read each other’s work, what were the similarities and differences?

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


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