By G. Wayne Miller Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Univ e r s i t y o f S o u t h e r n California Law professor, TED Talk presenter and award-winning author Elyn Saks will deliver the keynote address on March 12 at the opening of the second annual Brain Week Rhode Island, which celebrates neuroscience research and promotes awareness and understanding of mental health.
Saks, who lives with schizophrenia, received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2009 and is the author of a memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness, published a decade ago and still an Amazon bestseller.
Diagnosed with the disease when she was a young woman, a doctor told Saks that the best she could hope for was menial work and l i f e i n a residential facility.
“I might have ended up spending most of my life on the back ward of a hospital, but that isn’t how my life turned out,” she said.
Hardly. In awarding her a 2009 fellowship, the MacArthur Foundation wrote:
“Remarkably, she has been able to overcome this usually debilitating illness, bringing to her work both expert and first-hand perspectives. Though Saks achieved professional acclaim as a legal scholar before most friends and colleagues knew of her own battle with mental illness, the publication of her memoir has provided additional gravity to her contribution to scholarship, practice, and policy.”
The foundation added: “Saks is recognized by the mental health profession and by legal scholars alike as an important contributor to national debates on mental health policy. 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.”
Saks’ 2012 TED talk has been viewed more than 3 million times.
Schizophrenia, one of the more potentially debilitating mental illnesses, affects about 1.1 percent of U.S. adults, or about 2.6 million people. In Rhode Island, Melissa Fundakowski, who lives with the disorder, has emerged as a leading advocate. The Journal told her story in text and in a video last summer.
Saks will speak at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at Brown University’s Salomon Hall, 79 Waterman St. The event is free and open to the public.
And it begins more than a week of brain-related events sponsored by Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, the Brown Institute for Brain Science and the University of Rhode Island’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. Additional support is provided by the Providence VA Medical Center, the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, Bradley Hospital, and other organizations.
Among the other events — all free and open to everyone — in Brain Week Rhode Island:
■ March 13: A panel discussion and fi lm about autism.
■ March 14: Mental Tapas: Reframing Mental Illness.
■ March 15: Nerd Nite: More Brains.
■ March 16: Dance for Our Aging Population.
■ March 17: Panel discussion on stroke.
■ March 18: Exhibit by artists with autism.
■ March 19: Brown Brain Fair, for all ages.
■ March 29: Brain-themed Pecha Kucha.
For the full schedule, visit
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