Elyn Saks Awarded MacArthur Grant

October 4, 2009 at 10:59 am

In a society that seldom puts the spotlight on someone diagnosed with serious mental illness, other than in the light of violent crime, and much less for admirable and inspiring behavior — I found this worth sharing.

Elyn Saks

Elyn Saks is one of just 24 people in varied fields awarded a $500, 000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation this year. The grant is without restriction and can be used as its recipients choose but is offered in the interest and spirit of continued creative endeavors. There are some amazing individuals among the MacArthur Fellows, ranging from scientists to artists to legal advocates. From their website:

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

Saks, a legal scholar and mental health policy advocate has been actively questioning how we approach the idea of mental illness and more importantly the people to whom these labels are attached — both in the nature of her daily life and in her studies and works. Elyn has received a philosophy degree from Oxford and a law degree from Yale. She is on the faculty at USC and is researching societal rejection of people diagnosed as mentally ill. She hasn’t merely gotten by in her field but excelled, all the while dealing with her own serious mental illness. Saks is diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The fact that she has not just been able to live a “normal” life but one of remarkable work is a testament to the fact that people shouldn’t be defined by their perceived illnesses or the limitations we associate with them. The fact that she only went public with her diagnosed schizophrenia in 2007 but was facing it down throughout her successful studies speaks to the fact that limitations associated with perceived mental illness may not be inherent but placed upon people externally. Elyn’s work and achievements are admirable regardless of any mental health issues and backstory which is what places her among the 24. From the LA Times:

Saks said in an interview Monday that she would use at least some of the prize money to extend her memoir by interviewing other people with schizophrenia who are doing well.

“When I’m traveling, people always say, ‘You’re unique.’ Well, I’m really not,” she said. “I would just like to tell other people’s stories as well to further give people hope and understanding. . . . Some of their stories are just so inspirational.”

One has to wonder what doors would have been closed to her along the way if she had disclosed her situation — and how, if the mentally ill are so limited, the only conceivable thing that could have ve separated her from her goals is not an illness but the people around her.

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Entry filed under: People, Schizophrenia. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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