Mental illness is never easy to talk about but approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. suffer from this disease and it is often misunderstood. The media has a large impact on public perception of mental illness and the portrayal of mental illness in movies has become more prevalent. “A Beautiful Mind” is a film based on a true story that captures the events of John F. Nash Jr’s life as a genius struggling with schizophrenia. The movie was directed by Ron Howard, but was based on the book “A Beautiful Mind: a Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr by Sylvia Nasar. The book was published in 1998 and the movie was released a few years later in 2001. The main focus of the movie is on John Nash’s mental health issues and how they affect him and those around him.
Russell Crowe depicted John F. Nash Jr in this film about life and illness. It starts by him arriving at Princeton with many other math geniuses. The first few hours he interacts with other classmates then heads for his room to set up, when he is introduced to his roommate Charles. Nash is very conservative and reserved but tries his best to interact with other classmates on the first day. The windows in his room are filled with math equations written all over them and papers all over his desk in hopes of publishing his own idea. Many years later, he is invited to the Pentagon where he is offered a job as a cryptographer decoding messages that detect bombs from the soviets. On a trip back to Princeton he proposes to his lover Alicia, played by Jennifer Connelly and they marry.
William Parcher is an employee of the Department of Defense and Nash’s boss who takes part in the secret mission against the soviets. They are in a car one night and Parcher notices they are being followed and it ends in a shootout between them and Soviet agents. After this scene, John becomes extremely paranoid when seeing black vehicles and says to Parcher “you don’t understand, whenever a car backfires or a door shuts” and begins to shake, indicating his anxiety from the traumatic event (Nasar 1998). He attends the national mathematics conference at Harvard, when he believes foreign Soviet agents are after him and begins to run. Dr. Rosen who is a psychiatrist catches him and sedates him, which then he is admitted to a psychiatric facility.
This is a turning point in the movie because the audience realizes that his mission with the soviets, William Parcher and his roommate Charles are all delusions and he has been hallucinating for many years. As Alicia and Dr. Rosen try and figure out the onset of the delusions and progression, friends say he has become more agitated and skeptical lately. When in the facility he cannot come to terms with his illness and tells his wife over and over that “they” may be listening and there may be microphones everywhere. They start therapy with medications and insulin shock therapy and soon he is released.
When he returns home, he is feeling good for awhile, but as he progresses with treatment he notices that he is unable to take care of his child, help around the house and have normal relations with his wife. When these factors start affecting him emotionally and taking a toll on his marriage, he stops taking his medications without telling anyone. Unfortunately, he begins having delusions again of the soviets, which puts himself and his family in danger. When he comes to terms with what he has done, Dr. Rosen suggests that they increase his medications and insulin shock therapy, but Alicia and John think otherwise.
With the help of a familiar community and familiar faces at Princeton, Nash returns in the hopes of trying to return to normal life. Although it is not the same as before, he works on his mathematics in the library and audits classes. He learns to ignore his hallucinations and manage the mental illness that almost destroyed him and his family. In 1994 he won a noble piece prize for his math equation that is used in modern teaching of economics, which influenced global trade negotiations, national labor relations and breakthroughs with biology. With the help of medications, a strong support system and hope; John F. Nash Jr. was able to live again, despite his battle with mental illness.
The two main themes that are portrayed in this movie are madness and perseverance. At the beginning of the John Nash’s disease, madness is a key factor that affects him psychologically, but as his life continues he perseveres to overcome his challenges. Madness is described as the quality or state of being mad or insane” and the primary meaning of “mad” is “disordered in mind, while insane” which is defined as “mentally disordered: exhibiting insanity”. This encompasses a deranged state of the mind occurring as a specific disorder (schizophrenia) (Griffith 2011). In the movie he is portrayed as a genius which is why his symptoms go unnoticed at first. He is so intellectually intelligent that is mind is always going a hundred miles a minute and people connect that with his expertise in mathematics. In this movie, we see his illness progressively get worse and then better.
Nash’s dilemma is that his work is “terribly important all the time” this is commonly a symptom of an approaching nervous breakdown (Griffith 2011). After leaving the institution, Dr. Rosen and Alicia talked with Nash to discuss his continuation of treatment, and Nash declined all options and stated “I can do this. I can work it out. All I need is time” (Nasar 1998). With the help of Alicia, they worked together to overcome his hallucinations and manage his daily life. Although the madness stuck around, he managed to continue his work as a mathematician and genius. John F. Nash Jr refused to succumb to his madness and preserved through social and family support.
Perseverance is defined as persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. The perseverance that John Nash exhibits is rare and not always successful with schizophrenic patients. Treatment for these types of patients includes management with medications and psychosocial therapy, with a psychiatrist guiding treatment. It is very hard to just ignore the hallucinations and delusions without the help of treatment but his story is true and his determination to cope and overcome his delusions is courageous. He does his by having strong support from his family and community, and acknowledging stressors.
Nash recognizes how his schizophrenia and the symptoms that accompany this illness are effecting his activities of daily living and relationships with his loved ones and colleagues. Early on in his illness, his relationship with his wife is compromised emotionally and sexually. Sexual dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction and decreased libido are more frequent in both men and women suffering from schizophrenia. “The Intimacy and Mental Illness study shows that persons with mental illness are less likely to experience sexual intimacy than the general population” (Tharoor 2015). Drawing conclusions from the movie and this journal, I believe that the break in John and Alicia’s relationship was due to the side effects of the antipsychotic medications.
Another theme related to psychiatric mental health nursing, is the burden families feel as their love one suffers. Alicia did everything she could to support him, but stated that she feels an obligation, but also guilty of wanting to leave. According to the results from a study done regarding patients with schizophrenia and the burden on their caregivers; it suggests that even when the more elaborate symptoms of illness have been controlled, caregivers continue to be concerned about the patient’s ability to achieve the normal gratifications of social life, work life, and leisure activities (Perlick 2006). Although support from family members helps in the management of this illness, caregivers feel an overwhelming amount of guilt and stress.
“Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?” (Nasar). This statement, made by Dr. Rosen expresses how hard it is to accept that the hallucinations are not real and how to distinguish what is and what is not real life. Frequently individuals feel they cannot help themselves and work through he madness to ignore it, it is very hard to use your inner capabilities to ignore hallucinations and continue with daily life.
During my clinical experience over the past few weeks I have seen the toll it takes on schizophrenic patients to deal with their illness and manage their daily life, and relationships with others. The symptoms of schizophrenia include; delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking and speech. Managing the symptoms is not always easy and these patients tend to me withdrawn and isolated, similar to John F. Nash Jr. In psychiatric mental health nursing we are able to use many factors to help people live with this disease. Community, group work, medication and a strong support system are key factors in dealing and managing a mental illness (Harris 2018).
The story of John F. Nash Jr’s life brings light to mental health in the United States as well as the population it effects. Schizophrenia can effect many different walks of life, despite their education level, gender, age, and culture. People that struggle with mental illness deserve the treatment and respect that other receive. They are still humans that have emotions, and are able contribute to society, but they need our help. In the article “Fine Line Between Genius and Madness”, written by Mary Bess Griffith, in regards to this movie, she says “Perhaps humanity’s most powerful force is not the human mind, but the human connection.
Sustaining and nurturing that connection may well be the most important function of nursing” (Griffith 2011). As mental health nurses, our goal is to therapeutically assist an individual, family, group or community to promote mental health, to prevent mental illness and suffering, and to participate in the treatment and rehabilitation of the mentally ill and most importantly to find meaning in these experiences.