Honored in September, 2009 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” Elyn Saks is a distinguished legal scholar and law professor who has had chronic schizophrenia for over thirty years. Her work examines the ethical dimensions of psychiatric research and involuntary treatment of the mentally ill. This is an issue she is both personally and professionally invested in, having experienced both involuntary treatment and restraint.
Saks had sporadic symptoms of schizophrenia that were undiagnosed during high school, and then her mental illness escalated during college. In graduate school at Oxford in England she suffered a full-blown psychotic episode. Medication and therapy got the illness under control, but it erupted again some years later as she studied law at Yale. Admitted to the hospital in New Haven, she was force-fed drugs and strapped to gurneys. With therapy and pharmaceuticals, she successfully manages her schizophrenia
Associate Dean at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, Saks specializes in mental health law, criminal law, and children and the law. She is the author of Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill, Interpreting Interpretation: The Limits of Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis, and Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Law.
In 2007, Saks published The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, an autobiography about her struggles with schizophrenia and acute psychosis and her success in managing her condition. Oliver Sacks describes it as “The most lucid and hopeful memoir of living with schizophrenia I have ever read.”
Saks is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Law Institute. She is also a board member of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Foundation, Mental Health Advocacy Services, and the Robert J. Stoller Foundation.