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Question:
Much of the popular press has talked about how the movie, "A Beautiful Mind," shows that schizophrenia is best treated with drugs. In light of the fact that Dr. Nash stopped taking drugs in the 70s shouldn't organizations like NAMI rather than embracing the movie instead be trying to distance themselves from Nash's story? It seems that the message of John Nash's recovery is in direct contrast to NAMI's message. I would like to hear how NAMI and the scientists studying schizophrenia explain John Nash's (true) story because it is in direct contrast to their message that schizophrenia is best treated with medications.

Jonathan Leo
Pomona, California


Answered by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.:
Almost all of us who do research on schizophrenia have enthusiastically applauded "A Beautiful Mind" for two reasons. First, it depicts the reality of hallucinations for those afflicted with this disease, even though the producer used, for cinematic reasons, visual hallucinations (visions) rather than the much more common auditory hallucinations (voices). Second, by humanizing schizophrenia and emphasizing the brilliant work Dr. Nash did before he got sick, the movie decreased the stigma surrounding this disease.

Most individuals with schizophrenia require medication to control their symptoms and function at a higher level. When John Nash took medication, early in the course of his illness, he functioned much better. He then chose not to take medications and functioned relatively poorly for many years. According to my colleagues who have spoken with Dr. Nash, he is now functioning much better, although not as well as is depicted in the movie. The remission of symptoms is quite common in schizophrenia as people get older and has been described in studies since the 1950s. Thus Dr. Nash has not achieved a "miracle cure," but rather has had a partial remission of his symptoms related to his advancing age. The real tragedy of Dr. Nash, from my point of view, is the wasted years of his life when he was not on medication. It is quite possible that he would have been recognized for his early, Nobel-prize-winning work many years earlier if he had been on medication and functioning better.


E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.


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