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Vanderbilt alumna Elyn Saks recipient of MacArthur Fellow ‘genius grant’

Sep. 24, 2009, 11:06 AM

Elyn Saks, a 1977 graduate of Vanderbilt University and renowned legal scholar and mental health-policy advocate, was recently named one of 24 recipients of the 2009 MacArthur Fellow grants.

Saks was a Founder’s Medalist at Vanderbilt and Marshall Scholar at Oxford University before getting her law degree from Yale. She is currently the associate dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and a Ph.D. candidate in psychoanalysis.

She also has schizophrenia that has caused her to experience wild hallucinations, debilitating paranoia and violent psychotic breaks. Her 2007 personal memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, chronicled her life story. She spoke at Vanderbilt in 2008 as part of the Chancellor’s lecture series about her experiences with the disease.

Saks is using her life experiences to work to expand the options for those suffering from severe mental illness. She has played a major role in contemporary discussions of mental health law, patients’ rights, and multiple-personality disorder, including such issues as involuntary commitment, competency to be executed, proxy consent, and the right to refuse treatment.

Currently, Saks is leading a study with a multidisciplinary team of colleagues to understand better high-functioning schizophrenics, a largely unexamined area. Her personal biography will give this study an uncommon depth and richness and further extend her impact on mental health law and disability rights policy.

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.

Media Contact: Missy Pankake, (615) 322-NEWS