Schizophrenics may be doctors, lawyers and other professionals, law prof says

Mental health professionals may be selling schizophrenics short when they advise their patients that they should not pursue or expect fulfilling careers, according to a law professor with mental illness.

University of Southern California law professor Elyn Saks is a schizophrenic who received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 2009. She recalls a doctor who advised her after a hospitalization at the age of 28 that she should try part-time work as a cashier. “Then I made a decision,” Saks writes in an op-ed for the New York Times. “I would write the narrative of my life.”

Saks and her colleagues have studied 20 people with high-functioning schizophrenia in Los Angeles. They included a doctor, a lawyer, a psychologist and chief executive of a nonprofit group. All had developed techniques to manage their schizophrenia. They included realizing that their hallucinations were not real, identifying triggers that set off symptoms, and keeping their living spaces simple. Another frequently used technique was meaningful work—something that has also helped Saks.

“Personally, I reach out to my doctors, friends and family whenever I start slipping, and I get great support from them,” Saks writes. “I eat comfort food (for me, cereal) and listen to quiet music. I minimize all stimulation. Usually these techniques, combined with more medication and therapy, will make the symptoms pass. But the work piece—using my mind—is my best defense. It keeps me focused, it keeps the demons at bay. My mind, I have come to say, is both my worst enemy and my best friend.”

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