Summary and Reflection on "Seeing Mental Illness" by Elyn Saks

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Elyn Sasks is a highly respected professor at USC and Yale-alumni, who is also diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia. In this ted talk, Mrs. Saks presents to the viewers and audience her personal experiences and views towards schizophrenia. In this talk, Elyn also discussed with the audience the inhumane treatments towards people with mental illnesses (specifically in this case, its schizophrenia). She also advocates the need for improvement in treatments and research for mental illnesses.

Mrs. Sasks begins her story by talking about her long experience with psychiatric hospitalization and the different treatments she underwent during her time in those psychiatric facilities. She later tells the audience about the time when one of her close friend, Dr.White, was leaving his practice and how the idea of losing him caused her to have a psychotic breakdown. After a series of psychotic episodes and worsening symptoms, Sasks was placed in a psychiatric hospital and forcefully restrained onto a bed. She recalls of the time where a doctor and his staff lifted her up and slammed her onto a metal table. Sasks states that during that time, she remembered seeing stars and had “a sound come out my mouth that I’d never heard before; barely human and pure terror”. Sasks later spent 5 months in the psychiatric hospital, and notes that a majority of her time there, she was often restrained. She discussed how those methods were inhumane and ineffective in treating schizophrenia. Even with the odds against her, Sasks eventually went on to finish her degree at Yale University.

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Elyn later discussed the three main factors that helped her overcome schizophrenia. The first reason was due to having excellent treatments which included psychiatry and psychopharmacology. Two other reasons that helped Elyn with her diagnosis was the support from her family and friends and the support from USC Law school. In one part of her talk, Elyn states “These Relationships have given my life a meaning and a depth, and they also helped me navigate my life in the face of symptoms”. Towards the end of her talk, Elyn discuss the need for more investment into research and treatments for mental illnesses. She amplifies the need to protect the rights of those diagnosed with mental illnesses and actions needed to stop the use of force in psychiatric hospitals. Her final message explicitly states that her mental illness gives her character and it does not make them any less human. Contrary in her views, mental illness is just another roadblock in life.

I also agree with Elyn Sasks’ views and the need to improve research/treatments for different mental illnesses. I currently work in an ER that has a psychiatric pod and therefore I am exposed to many different patients with different mental illnesses each day. Sometimes it’s heart breaking hearing their stories and seeing how “broken” they are. I once interacted with a patient that overdosed on medication because she just wanted to “disappear from the world” so she wouldn’t have to hear the voices in her head. Most of the times, the doctors that I work with can only do so much and medicate these patients with Xanax and then transfer them to psychiatric facilities. I have also seen patient who had to return to the ER because they couldn’t find help from those psychiatric facilities. I believe that there needs to be an improvement in these systems so that we can continue to improve and give a voice to those who are suffering from mental illnesses.

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