How Realistic Is 'A Beautiful Mind'?

ByABC News via GMA logo
January 16, 2002, 3:58 PM

Jan. 17 -- Mental health experts are applauding A Beautiful Mind for creating a better understanding of schizophrenia, although some say the Hollywood version of John Nash's life does sometimes take liberties with medical realities.

In the movie, Russell Crowe plays Nash, a brilliant mathematician who came up with the game theory of economics and won the Nobel Prize, decades later, in 1994. At age 31, he develops schizophrenia and suffers a mental breakdown.

Because of his hallucinations and bizarre behavior, Nash is eventually placed on anti-psychotic drugs. But in the film, he stops taking the drugs after finding that they dull his senses, emotions and sex drive. Instead, he gets a handle on the disease through sheer force of will.

About 1 percent of the population will develop schizophrenia in their lifetime, and more than 2 million Americans suffer from it in a given year. Experts say that only one in five will recover completely and they probably won't be able to do it through willpower alone.

"Crowe does a brilliant job of portraying the mannerisms, and some of the behaviors of a schizophrenic the best I have ever seen on the screen," Dr. Ken Davis, chairman of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told "On the other hand, the notion that willpower can really overcome schizophrenia is ludicrous."

Drugs, Therapy and Emotional Support

Contrary to public perception, schizophrenia is not the same as having a split personality or a multiple personality. People with schizophrenia have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary, and may be withdrawn or have trouble expressing normal emotions in social situations. To manage the illness over a lifetime, most schizophrenics rely on a combination of medications, therapy and the support of friends and family.

In the film, Nash relies on anti-psychotic drugs during the worst periods of his illness, and his illness flares up when he is not taking them, then seems to improve.