Amazing schizophrenia talk at TED Global 2012

TED talks about psychosis

TED Global 2012 (June) included a talk from Elyn Saks who spoke about her experiences as a person with schizophrenia. Her talk – “A tale of mental illness from the inside” – is highly recommended to teachers and students of Psychology studying schizophrenia as their chosen mental disorder as part of the A2 course (AQA A: Unit 4; Psychopathology).

Real insights into schizophrenia

Elyn Saks is a Professor of Law, a writer and a lucid and insightful speaker. She also has a diagnosis of Chronic Schizophrenia and as such has experienced being involuntarily hospitalised, forcibly restrained and been given a bleak prognosis for the future due to the psychiatric label she carries. She is now very much an advocate for people who feel stigmatised, dehumanised and misunderstood. Elyn Saks’ experiences come to life due to her use of anecdotes from her writings about her psychotic experiences, her down to earth nature, her eloquence and her timely touches of humour.

This talk is an invaluable resource in the classroom and, in just 14 minutes, achieves everything (engages and educates) that the film A Beautiful Mind (Starring Russell Crow as John Nash) does without any of the, sometimes unnecessary, Hollywood drama or poetic licence.

Clinical characteristics and Psychiatry

“Imagine having a nightmare while you are still awake.” This is how Elyn Saks describes her experiences with thought control, delusions and hallucinations. She also describes some of the symptoms that are less richly described in the literature such as loose associations and other speech-related characteristics.

Elyn Saks describes herself as “pro psychiatry but anti force” when recounting her experiences of being forcibly strapped to a bed in hospital. She talks of her attempts to resist medication. She also points out that referring to people as “schizophrenics” is degrading and that she is a “person with schizophrenia”, someone’s spouse and someone’s child just like everyone else.

In the classroom

I think this talk would be perfect to show students at the start of studying schizophrenia. My students usually know a little about the disorder from discussion as part of AS psychopathology/abnormality and they really don’t need to know anymore to fully engage with the talk. While they watch I would ask them to note down symptoms or clinical characteristics that are described and try to get a feel of what it might be like to have schizophrenia, encouraging students to empathise with the speaker.

After the talk I would ask students 4 questions to stimulate discussion.

  1. What surprised you?
  2. What is it like to have schizophrenia (as opposed to what is schizophrenia)?
  3. What was the main message of the talk?
  4. What do you think Elyn’s assumptions are about the causes of the disorder? (she refers to schizophrenia as a “brain disease”)

Independent follow up task

Ask students to watch dramatic representations of schizophrenia such as A Beautiful Mind or Hollyoaks (Channel 4, teen soap) portrayal of the character Newt (aired between 2007 – 2010). Students could compare and contrast the sources, identifying similarities and differences in the way that the disorder is represented and the impact of such portrayals on society opinion and stigma.

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