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September 01, 2004

A Beautiful Lie

Remember the movie, A Beautiful Mind, about mathematician John Nash, who had schizophrenia? Russell Crowe starred in it.

I ran across some interesting tid-bits about that movie while doing some reading for my two psychology panels for the upcoming WorldCon. Apparently, the filmmakers took a bit of poetic license with the story. I did not know that the real John Nash was off all of his medication by 1970, before he recovered. I also did not know that the movie was used by pharmaceutical companies to promote their products.

Pfizer and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) arranged a screening of the movie for health reporters and theatre critics in New York. NAMI is a support and advocacy group for consumers, families, and friends of people with mental illness that receives a great deal of its funding from pharmaceutical companies. NAMI has been very cagey about identifying exactly how much of its funding comes from pharmaceuticals. Ely Lilly and the National Mental Health Association arranged a showing for legislators in California. Janssen sponsored a fundraising event at which John Nash was the keynote speaker for a chapter of NAMI in New Jersey.

The irony of all of this is that there were pharmaceuticals using a movie that took quite a bit of poetic license with the facts. Nash was off his medications before he recovered, yet pharma uses the movie to sell its pills. I also understand that the movie played a bit fast and loose with the facts as far as the nature of schizophrenia goes, even though some "spokespeople" had said that the movie was an accurate depiction of the disorder.

Posted on September 1, 2004 at 11:11 AM | Permalink


i'd heard that a beautiful mind got stuff wrong. i haven't seen the film, but apparently they have his wife and him sticking by each other through his illness when, in fact, nash dumped her. he also had several relationships with men which also, somehow, did not come up in the film. but i had never heard the bit about pharmacuticals. on the other hand, it's not surprising. hollywood is gradually becoming one big extension of the advertising industry.

Posted by: upyernoz at Sep 1, 2004 2:53:57 PM

I read that too, Noz. I also read that Nash cheated on her a lot. I hadn't heard about the pharmaceutical connection until yesterday. It doesn't surprise me, either.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Sep 1, 2004 4:35:21 PM

The book A Beautiful Mind, on which the movie was based, has a fuller account of Nash's marriage. The movie simplified from the book considerably. Left out were Nash's affairs with men, the fact that he had a child with another woman before meeting his wife, their divorce. On the other hand, the book didn't leave me with the impression that Nash dumped her. Rather, the book left me with the impression that Alicia Nash, understandably frustrated being married to a schizophrenic who wasn't recovering and who was sometimes going off his medication, divorced him, but then a few years later took him into her house. Eventually, many years later, they remarried. Medication, incidentally, seems to have alleviated the symptoms but not cured him - a fairly common experience for schizophrenics on phenothiazines - and he emerged from his schizophrenia years later - which happens with some schizophrenics, though a distinct minority.

The movie also didn't really accurately portray Nash's game theory (you get a much better understanding of that in the book). I did really enjoy the movie as drama. I felt it conveyed the frustration of living with mental illness, the excitement of mathematical discovery, etc., but it definitely altered a lot of the story for dramatic purposes. So you wind up with a much simplified and romanticized version of Nash's life.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax at Sep 1, 2004 10:57:02 PM

Oh, weird. I saw the movie, and disliked it (from a math-geek perspective more than
anything else), but one thing they did get right was that they portrayed Nash as more or
less "willing away" his schizophrenia. They portrayed him as finding the side effects of
his drugs to be unbearable, and he stopped taking them. And drug companies think that
this is good advertizing?

Posted by: Moebius Stripper at Sep 2, 2004 2:29:22 PM

I am a mental case. Have been since 1972. Diagnosed then with paronoid Schizophrenia. Simple Schizo was another label. I watched the story about Nash's life and was in awe how the man could fuction on that level so brilliantly yet not all the time. Of course not all the time. If I can remeber the movie, he was given shock treatment as well as drugs. the old style bit in the mouth shock. wicked that one. Now its just a simple IV and your are awake getting your dose of voltage. In the nuthouse I saw too many 'mood disorder' victims without meds. Some were back in vietnam, some slit their wrists, others hung themselves from the old ceiling ventillation. The drugs that worked for schizs were halyperdol, clormorporozene, and later resperidone. Throw in some lithium for a blue skie or two and hopefully those two little mice dressed in space gear on each side of your shoulders would stop taling so FAST. That Nash, he beat the disease and managed to accomplish something. 99% schiz's just manage. Yeah that man had genius and he had schiz.
What about Bi-polar. It seems to have quite a following these daze. Seems if you an artist, actor does not have it they are not cool. So many musicians have this disease. It can be as serious as schizo because of the suicide feelings when in the down or up mode any way you look at it. The worst part of bi-polar is when the mania collides with the depression and off you go into whirlwind of emotional upheavel. Then the effects of schizophenia can become evident. Luckily Lithium prescribed with an anti-convulsant along with an anti-depressant (clonazpem). can stabalize this disorder and one can function. the singer Sting, who suffers with this 'mood disorder' wrote a song called Lithium Sunset. It calms him down. Afterall, he did try to kill his drummer. So all this talk about meds are some conspiracy to control people's minds is junk talk. There are no cures for these illnesses and until there are, meds culd save you and my life. Dr. Nash was lucky in some respects. He had a beautiful mind and was surrounded by intelligent people. Lots of us don't have that luxary. Many of us are in the streets. We get beat up a lot. Can't manage our money and the system has no time for our lot. I am fortunate. Brother a stock broker, sister a lawyer and another brother who employs me in his business. Yes very lucky, but still the stigma never goes away. That can be worse than the disease. Don't consider this a troll discussion. I have been to hell and back. Find this site compassionate.

Posted by: LUCYsky at Sep 6, 2004 3:25:30 AM

Everyone should read Lucy's post and commit it to memory. As a medical social worker who specializes in "neck up" conditions, I can attest that these disorders are quite physical and should be treated as such. In other words, when your brain chemistry is off, you should seek chemical treatment. It's just like treating any other dysfunction of the body. Unless one is a Christian Scientist, one would not discourage antibiotics for a staph infection. Discouraging psychotropics for brain trouble is much the same thing.

Dr. Nash did NOT "cure himself" of schizophrenia. He controlled his behavior without the use of medications. There's a huge difference. As Lucy said, very, very few can do that. And those who can't put themselves and the people around them in danger when they can't. And, again contrary to popular belief, the danger doesn't often present as violent behavior. It's more often extremely focused behavior that causes harm through inattention to environmental dangers. The example in the movie is leaving the baby in the bath. I have a client who was trying to stop cars on a highway (in order to preach to the drivers). That sort of thing isn't necessarily violent, but it's undeniably dangerous.

The problems with the antpsychotic meds that Lucy mentioned and with many others that are antidepressants or anticonvulsants are the side effects. Simply, antipsychotics "slow down" the brain by disrupting excitatory neurotransmitters (ie, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, epinephrine, glutemate, and others!) by 1) blocking the neural receptors, 2) causing the re-uptake of the neurotransmitters before they reach the receptor, and 3) simply reducing the amount of neurotransmitter available. The good thing about these meds is that they alleviate the symptoms of psychosis. The bad thing is that in doing so, they slow down other, "good" brain activity, so you get your side effects like drowsiness, lethargy, and a disinhibited appetite (imagine the combination of lethargy and increased appetite! Not pretty). Tardive dyskinesia is the most severe group of SE's. It is a collection of tics and loss of muscle control that resembles Parkinson's disease. It can be irreversible. So these SE's are a definite discentive to proper use of the drug.

There are new generation antipsychotics, like seroquil, that minimize SE's and help with symptoms but are very pricy and on almost no indigent program formularies. And most people with mental health issues have no insurance, so guess where that leaves them...

As Lucy said, antispychotics and antidepressants work at cross-purposes; one inhibits the neurotransmitters, one boosts them. It's really difficult to stabilize folks with both psychosis and depression...and since psychosis often causes reactive depression, it's a spiraling train to hell.

Posted by: at Sep 7, 2004 2:35:57 PM

I don't know why my name's not up there. Previous post by me.

Posted by: Kathy at Sep 7, 2004 3:38:22 PM

Thankyou for the feedback on my discussion on mental illness. My p-doc, who was the one who found the best combination of meds once told me that he does not thinkin labels. He told me that tryig to find a label is just wasting time for so many of the symptoms of certan mental disorders reveal themselves in others. So he simply calls them "mood disorders".
Too many times he has diagnosed shizophrenia only for that illness to become a bipolar.My schozo began in 1972 with illicet drugs. Everything from grass to Heroin to psychadelics. I showed all the signs of schizophrenia by many doctors. Ten years laters I was living without meds jand working. In 1992, I had a cervical fusion. One year later, I imagined in the middle of the night that my house was on fire. I began to put it out with a hose.I thought people were out to get me. I was rapid cycling at this point. I had just enough sense to phone my neighbour who phone the ambulance. I now have been diagnosed with Bi-polar (not schizophrenia)and have not been able to work since. Some the of best neuros and p-docs said that a blow to the physiological path ;of the being could bring on subtle brain injury and a "mood disorder" . Depression is quite prevalent amongst many North americans. However, I have had psychotic feelings with the both the depression and mania.
I m doing well now. I still have the ups and downs andall arounds associated with the mood disorders. I go in for a med review in Novemeber. Hopefully I can reduce the clonazepam. It is addictive. If I run out of it all hell breaks loose. Somewhat like coming of heroin. voices, anger, thoughts of suicide, no sense of time, sweating; Surely they can find a med that does not offer these symptoms of addiction. My record on drug abuse stands clean for 28 years now.
I have been on steady p-doc meds for 14 year now. I believe need them but then maybe not. That is anotherpart of this thing that gnaws at one; the mystery of if it is still ther and how long will it stay and will it stay forever.
once again, thankyou for your understanding and compassion on the subject. We need more people like you in the trenches of mood disorders and less people in the trenches of war, greed, and hatred. If one thinks for a moment the latter could be canditates for a mood disorder also.

Posted by: LUCYsky at Sep 8, 2004 1:46:06 PM