Surprising Success Of Schizophrenics

Workers with schizophrenia can have surprising professional success.

When Elyn Saks (pictured above) was diagnosed with schizophrenia decades ago, she was told not to expect to ever have a career, or much of a life. But the University of South Carolina law professor went on to win a 2009 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and study other high-functioning, high-achieving schizophrenics.

In writing about her experience in The New York Times, she discussed how her 20 research subjects in the Los Angeles area compartmentalized their condition so that they could pursue careers as a "doctor, lawyer, psychologist and chief executive of a nonprofit group." She says that their symptoms, as well as her own, included hallucinations and mild delusions.

For instance, she wrote about an educator with a master's degree who learned to face his own "hallucinations and ask, 'What's the evidence for that? Or is it just a perception problem?' Another participant said, 'I hear derogatory voices all the time. ... You just gotta blow them off.' "

While discrimination against the mentally ill is illegal, it's well documented that workers are so fearful of retribution that they often choose to hide their condition. And with good cause too -- a highly-cited 2006 study found that workers who reveal a mental illness earn an average of 28 percent less than their fellow employees. Saks' research, however, provides a window on how some manage to cope with their condition and succeed at work.

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Dr. J

This is great!! If someone has a skill or talent, the world is so much better off it they can actualize it!

January 31 2013 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, they even get to run for U.S. president as a republican.

January 31 2013 at 1:10 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with you, cheeriobot. While I was completing my Master's degree in Counseling, one of my professors stressed the importance of NOT labeling people who had mental illnesses as "a schizophrenic" or a "bipolar". She stated that someone with schizophrenia should be called exactly that.. The same can be said about bipolar disorder. (It should also be stressed that mental illnesses are MEDICAL illnesses, just as diabetes and heart disease are.)
I work in a prison as a mental health case manager and see inmates who have been very ill start taking the newer psychotropics like Invega, Geodon, and Zyprexa. It's remarkable that, after finally finding ones that work for them, they become incredibly high-functioning . Some admit that they still have hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions, but state that these symptoms are very manageable. Thank God we don't have to use Haldol and Thorazine any longer, although these can be used initially to calm someone, if need be.

January 31 2013 at 9:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Of course Schizophrenics are amazingly high achieving people. It stands to reason that if more than \"one brilliant person\" is working on a project that the results will be proportionately successful, and possibly even synergistic.

January 31 2013 at 5:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At the present time with the debate regarding the Newtown murders, there is much talk about gun control, Hollywood violence and mental illnes. Just like it would be unjust to ban guns from law abiding citizens. It would be unjust to begin to stigmatize those with mental illness who can function well in society. I do hope that instead of hysteria, people recognize this.

January 30 2013 at 7:57 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

As a psychologist, I strongly object to the wording of the headline for this article. The content is fantastic. However, referring to individuals with schizophrenia as "a schizophrenic" is as derogatory and demoralizing as calling someone with a physical limitation "a cripple." The media is in a unique and powerful position to model and promote responsible person-first nomenclature and help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. I hope this insensitivity is corrected quickly.

January 30 2013 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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