Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Name of Innovative Program: 
Giving Voice: Interdisciplinary Strategies for Advocating on Behalf of Persons with Mental Illness
Sponsoring Organization
University of Southern California Gould School of Law
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Elyn Saks
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
The Saks Institute does what no Center has previously accomplished: An individual with a severe mental illness founded and leads the Institute; the Institute gives individuals with mental illness a central role in its programming; and the Institute promotes a social justice and anti-stigma agenda for individuals with mental illness. Elyn Saks founded the Saks Institute to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to the social, legal, medical, and political challenges that individuals with mental illness face. The Institute supports its unique approach with a yearly symposium and distinguished lecture series. The Symposia enable professionals and consumers to exchange ideas on equal footing and to learn from each other. Past and future topics include the use of mechanical restraints in psychiatric hospitals, forced use of psychotropic medication, the criminalization of mental illness, and promoting academic success among university students with mental illness. The Institute develops best practices across a range of venues. 
Creativity and Innovation: 
The Saks Institute is the first to focus an interdisciplinary lens on the issues of mental health with an emphasis on the consumer voice. Elyn Saks created the Saks Institute to bring the perspectives of law, ethics, psychology and psychiatry to bear on mental health issues as they pertain to individuals and society. The Institute supports this unique work with a yearly symposium and distinguished lecture series. Experts in public policy, law, law enforcement and medical practice exchange ideas and learn from each other on equal footing. Topics have included the use of mechanical restraints in psychiatric hospitals, compliance and non-compliance with psychotropic medication, and the criminalization of mental illness. This year participants will be studying mental health disorders in university students to help inform policy making. It is the intention of the symposia to carry the message from those with mental illness and their caretakers directly to policy makers.
Elyn Saks is a national leader in advocating on behalf of individuals with mental illness. Her Institute is fast becoming a cutting-edge tool of social change. Since the publication of her memoir, "The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness" Saks has spoken in national and international venues to give the public a vivid understanding of what it is like to have a psychotic disorder. Despite being given a “grave” prognosis when she was hospitalized as a student at Yale Law School, Saks is now a chaired professor of law and has authored eight books and well over three times as many articles. Her TED talk given in June of 2012 has nearly one million hits. The Institute trains students to be future leaders in the mental health field, and Professor Saks works closely with these students as they continue to publish their work in highly regarded, peer reviewed journals.
Funds from Professor Saks' MacArthur Award support the Saks Institute, now in its fourth year. In addition to her time, Professor Saks contributes a substantial portion of her publishing royalties and speaking fees to the Institute. USC Gould School of Law contributes resources to the Institute including funding and staffing. Other USC departments whose students participate in the Institute provide financial and academic resources as well.It is the third year of a major grant for the Institute. The Institute will reapply for more funds in 2014. The USC law school development office seeks funds as well. A grant writer has been employed and a strong board of directors is committed to the continuing success of the Institute. As the Institute becomes increasingly recognized as a center for public policy thinking and debate, its reputation and the issues it addresses will become increasingly known to the public.
A primary goal of the Saks Institute is to organize programs that will lead to best practices across a range of issues and venues. As an example, the Saks Institute program on mechanical restraints has directly resulted in an initiative to garner resources for training to reduce the use of restraints in psychiatric hospitals in the US. In the next two years Saks Institute will collaborate with colleges and universities to draft a set of best practices for higher academic institutions in handling mental illness in their student populations. The plan is for academic institutions of higher learning to apply directly what they learn from the Institute's programs.Our symposia and distinguished lectures are replicated on the web and illustrate the Saks’ Institute unique interdisciplinary approach. Over time, the Saks Institute will begin to publish its proceedings in written and other forms.
Symposia audiences have increased 400 percent in four years. Attendee evaluations have been uniformly positive. Attendees have said that our symposia have been some of the best they have attended in years.Because of Elyn Saks’ book and the establishment of the Institute, national media have often asked for opinion pieces about a number of issues, most especially stigma. The media have recognized Professor Saks as an authority regarding issues related to mental illness. Professor Saks promotes her Institute scholars as the next generation of leaders in advocacy.Additional funding will be enormously helpful for the Saks Institute to advance its agenda. The Institute’s goal is to have a thriving research and advocacy agenda carried out in a first-rate academic institution. The Saks Institute is well on its way to achieving that goal, and will be grateful for any support the Scattergood foundation can provide.
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