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Brooklyn Supreme Court hosts lecture on mental illness

November 2, 2017 By Paul Frangipane Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Professor Elyn Saks, right, with Supreme Court Justice Steven Mostofsky. Eagle photos by Paul Frangipane
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A University of Southern California professor who has struggled with schizophrenia throughout her life captivated dozens in the Brooklyn Supreme Court Justices’ Board Room with her tales battling the illness and ideas for treatment going forward.

Professor Elyn Saks was brought to the civil courthouse by Supreme Court Justice Steven Mostofsky, who read her memoir “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness” as training for his new role in the court’s mental hygiene part.

“I read the book and I was stunned,” Mostofsky told the crowded room. “I must say it gives me great pleasure to introduce Professor Elyn Saks to talk to us today.”

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Saks dominated the room, drawing unwavering attention and tears with her story.

It all began, she said, while studying ancient philosophy at the University of Oxford.

“I spent much of my time wandering the streets of Oxford … and contemplating various ways to commit suicide to rid the world of my evil,” Saks said. “Good psychiatric treatment has kept me alive.”

Throughout her story, she details her treatment that consisted of restraints, hospitalization and back and forth between psychiatrists about taking her medication. All this culminated in her collection of knowledge to push for proactive treatment policies today.

Once she was able to meld together her “three selves” — “Elyn, professor Saks and the woman with the thick medical charts” — she was able to start performing studies and advocating for improved treatment.

For her that means convincing people to want treatment as well as minimizing the use of force and restraints, among other suggestions.

“One of the worst aspects of schizophrenia is the profound isolation,” Saks said. “The constant awareness that you’re different, some sort of alien, not really human.”

“Healing takes place in relationships,” she said.

Now as director of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics, which she founded in 2010 with funds from the MacArthur Fellowship, she said the “othering” of people with mental illnesses needs to stop, and that understanding they are human beings alike is crucial.

“Mental health and mental illness involve whole people,” Saks told the crowd. “I think we need to step up to the plate and provide people with adequate treatment.”

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