By Elaine Cassel
A Beautiful Mind
is an inspiring story about triumph over schizophrenia, among the most devastating and disabling of all mental disorders. But how realistic is its portrayal of recovery?
Advertisements accurately tout the movie as an intensely human drama "revolving around the grand themes of great triumph over intense adversity and the power of unwavering love." Based on the book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, the movie has been praised by mental health advocates as bringing to life the struggles faced by sufferers of schizophrenia and their families. Yet, Nash’s experience is not generalized among the population with this disorder.
Nominated for several Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best actor, A Beautiful Mind succeeds in realistically depicting the disturbed thinking, emotion, perception, and behavior that characterizes the disorder, and conveys the arduous task of management of and/or recovery from the disorder. According to Xavier Amador, Ph.D., Director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the movie communicates the vital important of the factors that contributed to Nash’s recovery and achievement of his vast potential as a gifted intellectual. For instance, Nash was treated with dignity and respect by most of his academic peers. Social support and tolerance enabled him to regain his capacity for productive work that led to his receipt of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. His employer, Princeton University, went a long way to accommodate him and find a place for him in the academic community.
Nash also benefited from the love and faith exhibited by his wife, Alicia. Just as the movie Iris depicts the significance of the support writer Iris Murdoch received from her long-suffering husband who nursed her until her death from Alzheimer’s disease, A Beautiful Mind credits the love and faith of Nash’s wife, Alicia, as a significant factor in his recovery.
Though some of the treatment he received would not be administered today, Nash had the financial ability to access the best treatment available at the time. Few people suffering from schizophrenia are treated with the cognitive therapy that helped Nash learn to ignore his hallucinations and refuse to engage in certain thought and behavioral processes. As Amador notes, these state-of-the-art treatments and services are not as widely available as they should be. If they were, we would see many more beautiful minds freed from the prisons created by untreated illness, stigma, and ignorance.
A Beautiful Mind
contributes to the public understanding of schizophrenia. It shatters some stereotypes of sufferers—such as their being dangerous and unable to function in the world—and emphasizes the importance of treatment and social support. But viewers should not be lulled into thinking that Nash’s encounter with schizophrenia is the norm. Unfortunately, all too many people who grapple with this illness do so with few of the resources Nash had at his disposal. Perhaps some time in the future, our attitude toward and treatment of the mentally ill will progress so that Nash’s situation will be the norm—not the rarity.
Reference: NAMI Calls "A Beautiful Mind" An Historic, Authentic, Achievement. Retrieved March 6, 2002 from http://www.nami.org/pressroom/20020115.html
Elaine Cassel, Marymount University and Lord Fairfax Community College