NAMI Calls "A Beautiful Mind" A Historic, Authentic Achievement | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

NAMI Calls “A Beautiful Mind” A Historic, Authentic Achievement

Posted on January 15, 2002

Arlington, VA - The Golden Globe awards won't be announced until Sunday, January 20, and Oscar nominations have yet to be made, but the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is already calling A Beautiful Mind a winner.

"Our members are the movie's toughest critics," said NAMI executive director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D. "Like Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash, Jr., they have experienced mental illness first-hand, either as consumers, family members, friends, or professionals in the mental health field."

"A Beautiful Mind is a breakthrough of historic proportions. It is authentic. Although John Nash's story has been fictionalized, with some edges smoothed over, the essential portrayal is realistic. For our community, it hits home. It speaks many truths."

"Director Ron Howard, actor Russell Crowe and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman deserve more than Oscars," Birkel said. "They deserve their own prize for bridging the gap between entertainment and broad public education about schizophrenia-an illness which is too often misunderstood and marked by stigma in popular culture."

Xavier Amador, Ph.D., Director of NAMI's Center on Education, Research & Practice said: "The experience of having schizophrenia is nearly impossible for the average person to grasp. Understanding what is it like to believe that something is happening to you, when in fact it is not, is nearly impossible unless you personally know someone with this brain disorder. But not any more. This film takes you inside the mind of someone battling to separate reality from delusion. This is no small feat. The positive impact of A Beautiful Mind for people with severe and persistent brain disorders, and for society as a whole, will go far beyond what the filmmakers could ever have imagined."

Amador believes the movie's telling of the story of John Nash's recovery dispels many myths about schizophrenia and communicates important truths, such as:

  • Whenever people with schizophrenia are treated with dignity and respect recovery is optimized.
  • Many people with schizophrenia suffer from poor insight, or anosognosia, a symptom of the illness that understandably either delays their getting help or keeps them out of treatment all together.
  • The vital role of medication in treating the symptoms of schizophrenia and the risks of discontinuing medication. (In the movie, Nash's delusions and hallucinations return with a vengeance when he stops taking medication. Later, he takes newer medications, even though he continues to see-but ignore-hallucinations).
  • The vital role that social supports and tolerance plays in recovery and especially in regaining the capacity to work productively.
  • That there is good reason to have faith and hope. Alicia Nash (Jennifer Connelly) in the movie proclaims, "I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible." For many families today, extraordinary things are happening when access to state-of-the-art care is available. And the hope continues to be that scientific research will find a cure for schizophrenia.
  • The value of community reintegration: what Nash (Russell Crowe) in the movie calls "fitting in, being part of a community, a certain level of attachment to familiar places" when he asks for permission to "hang around" Princeton University's library and math department.
  • The tremendously positive impact employers: e.g., Princeton University can have when they go the extra mile to find a way to utilize the talents of persons with serious mental illness.
  • The effectiveness of the strategies used in cognitive therapy: or what Nash what calls "a diet of the mind," disciplining himself to ignore hallucinations and not to "indulge" certain habitats, enthusiasms, nightmares or dreams.
  • Schizophrenia is an "equal opportunity" disorder: you can be brilliant and have schizophrenia.

"There is hope that we can cure schizophrenia, but we're not there yet" Amador said. "But we have made monumental advances in the last two decades in helping people live productive and meaningful lives. State-of-the-art treatments and services are not as widely available as they should be - not by a long shot. If they were, we would see many more 'beautiful minds' freed from the prisons created by untreated illness, stigma and ignorance."

One scene in the movie - where insulin therapy is administered-has proven controversial. Lying on a hospital bed in restraints, Nash is subjected to violent convulsions. Some viewers mistakenly believe the procedure to reflect modern treatment methods or electroshock therapy. "The scene is very disturbing, but it brings home how devastating the illness can be when untreated and how individuals and families would resort to desperate measures in the time before modern treatments became available" Amador said. "It does not represent the reality of treatment today."


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