Personal Lives

Law Prof Succeeds Despite Schizophrenia

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When Elyn Saks got married in 2001, she wondered if aliens might attend the wedding reception. At one point in her life, she thought about kidnapping her psychotherapist and keeping her in a closet, so the woman would always be available for therapy sessions.

Yet while Saks, 51, still struggles with the effects of schizophrenia, a mental illness that causes delusional thinking, she is also is capable of high-level academic work. A Yale Law School graduate, Saks has been a University of Southern California law professor for nearly 20 years. She is now an associate dean overseeing research and grants at USC’s Gould School of Law, reports the Los Angeles Times in a detailed profile. A mental health law specialist, she is also an adjunct psychiatry professor at the University of California at San Diego’s medical school and is training to become a psychoanalyst.

Although Saks can’t completely control her delusional thinking, she has learned not to discuss it with most people. She avoids stress and, with the help of medication and frequent therapy sessions, stays on an even keel. Going public with her mental illness, for which she has had inpatient treatment in the past, required considerable resolve. Wanting to promote public understanding about schizophrenia, however, she wrote a book, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. Published last month, it has been positively reviewed.

But it has also shown more education is needed. One USC colleague, for instance, “told Saks she would have never gone to dinner with her had she known of her schizophrenia, afraid that one of Saks’ delusional episodes could occur at any time,” writes the Times.

Says Steve Behnke, a law school classmate and longtime friend: “When you have cancer, people send flowers. When you lose your mind, they don’t.”

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