Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Elyn Saks and human rights

Thanks go out to WillSpirit! for alerting me to Elyn Saks' TEDTalk. Dr. Saks is a University of Southern California professor of law and author of The Center Cannot Hold, her autobiography of her experience with schizophrenia.

If you haven't yet read The Center Cannot Hold, please put it on your reading list. I gave it a positive review on Amazon. In this video she refers to schizophrenia as a "disease," and says that she takes medication. In that sense I find that she is a out of step with current research that has not found any brain pathology associated with the condition. The effectiveness of medication to treat the so-called  "disease" is also scientifically questionable. Is the medication effective for her? In a Time Magazine interview here's what she said in 2007.

What protection does medicine offer you?

It's very good. The new meds I'm on [Clozapine, an anti-psychotic medication] make the episodes come further apart; they last less long when they happen, and they're less intense when they happen. So it's a kind of floor below which I don't go. When I was on Navane [another anti-psychotic medication] back in New Haven, and the first five or 10 years in L.A., I was teetering on the edge all of the time. A slight breeze would push me over into the land of psychosis. Now, I'm mostly well. I'm mostly thinking clearly. I do have episodes, but it's not like I'm struggling all of the time to stay on the right side of the line. Read more:,8599,1656592,00.html#ixzz20JPa0aNH

From reading her book I understood that the only therapy Elyn Saks underwent was years of Kleinian psychotherapy. As far as I'm aware, she doesn't practice yoga or meditation, take vitamin supplements or do anything else to manage her condition. What she does do is work. Work is her focus and her salvation, as she confides in the video. But, she may have added extra stress in the process of hard work, by not allowing herself time to heal, to reflect, to take time off, to really think about what else might be contributing to her psychosis.  She may think that the medications do more for her than they actually do, based on old, and by now, increasingly suspect scientific data. It is also found that people's symptoms diminish with age and Saks may be attributing to the meds what aging has accomplished. Still, it's her experience, and she has a right to tell it as she knows it, but I can already see from comments here and there on the web that her story is being used as living proof of the triumph of meds in combination with psychotherapy. By her own admission, she continues to struggle. She is a law professor who actively works against the use of physical restraints, which is admirable. But, many people consider the use of medications to be a human rights abuse - chemical restraints. Will Dr. Saks also use her legal expertise and influence to look at all aspects of human rights abuses in mental health?

Elyn Saks owns her experience and tells her story well, so more power to her. I just hope her story isn't highjacked into yet another glossy pharmaceuticalized depiction of "the meds are so much better these days that it's just a question of finding the right ones."


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Oops, here is the correct link:

  3. Hi, Anonymous,
    In order to delete the link, I had to delete your whole comment, so here is your original comment minus the incorrect link.

    Rossa, I agree that everyone has his or her own experience and we should not judge. Elyn has found her own way and it works for her. She believes she has a chemical imbalance in her brain, but have you seen this article which suggests that Schizophrenia may be caused by a parasite?


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