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Courage in face of mental darkness

September 13, 2007

Re "A secret life of madness," Column One, Sept. 10

My deepest respect goes out to Elyn Saks for finding the courage to share her private life. Many who suffer from mental illness are reluctant to face their problems or to seek help because of the social stigma attached to being labeled as such. What a shame that we are so frightened by the idea of mental illness that we ostracize those in need, when the truth is that we are all susceptible.

When stress levels combine with predisposed factors, anyone can experience an event (see rates of nervous breakdowns in college students). If we can summon some of the courage exhibited by Saks and recognize that treating mental illness deserves the same commitment given physical ailments, we will have turned a corner toward accepting what it is to be human.

Dirk Blocker

Santa Barbara

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Saks is a remarkable woman to deal with schizophrenia and hold the demanding and prestigious position of associate dean for research at USC's School of Law. I am elated that the law school supports her in going public with her mental illness. As a lawyer who suffers from chronic depression and several anxiety disorders, her story is particularly meaningful to me. Hopefully by going public she can help diminish the stigma that surrounds mental illness and show that with medication, therapy and self-discipline, people with mental illness are capable of achieving great feats.

Allen P. Wilkinson

Whittier

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The amount of courage required in the battle against total mental darkness in which the mind -- that totally human organ -- places the personality in a pit of terror and becomes its enemy must be overwhelming. In Saks' case, the organ that should organize and direct her thoughts and activities turned on her, destroying any possibility of faith in what it says. The fact that Saks has survived her mental illness is a wonder. The fact that she has engaged her conflicted mind in a way that it has become productive is such an example of grand courage that it is impossible to quantify. We owe her a debt of gratitude for allowing us to experience a small part of her experience.

Jim McGrath

Glendale

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Unless people go public about their experiences with mental illness, the stigma will go on forever. Mental illness is an equal-opportunity disease: It can happen to anyone regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic level. In my case, I had served overseas in the military and Peace Corps, then returned to California to work as a civil engineer when I suddenly started having hallucinations. Fortunately, after several hospitalizations, my doctors found a medication that controls my illness.

Those of us struggling with mental illness just want to be treated like anyone else: with kindness and respect.

Frank C. Baron

Los Angeles

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