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Schizophrenia Health Center

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Butting Heads over 'A Beautiful Mind'

The Side-Effect Problem

In the movie, after Nash is hospitalized for his illness, he receives insulin-shock therapy and begins taking one of the first-generation antipsychotic medications. The side effects of the drugs are too much for him, though, and before long, he stops taking the medication.

"What is true of Nash's side effects in the movie is true of nearly every schizophrenia patient, but some have far worse side effects than others," says Garver.

The good news is that newer drugs have far fewer side effects.

"It used to be that 50% to 60% of patients would have disabling side effects from medications when we were using such drugs as [Thorazine] and [Haldol]," says Garver. The side effects of older drugs included muscle stiffening, sexual problems, thought problems, and oversedation, to name a few. New drugs like Risperdal, Zyprexa, and Zeldox are much improved, he says. These drugs appear to partially restore thought function lost to the illness in some patients.

Eventually, Nash arrives at a combination treatment that restores some level of function to his life.

"In the movie, we see him returning to some level of functioning and great improvement over the worst of the psychosis," says Garver. "He can function at some level, but not always independently. And that's true of other patients. Though about one third never come out of their psychotic state."

Dispelling Misconceptions

At one point in the film, Nash's illness threatens the safety of his infant son. But Nimogaonkar says it is vital that people understand that people with schizophrenia are not necessarily dangerous.

"It's not an illness that makes you predisposed to violence," he says. "They are no more prone to violence than the rest of the population."

And Garver wants to make sure that people really understand that Nash is an exceptional case because of his high IQ.

"My concern about the movie is that it showed him being able to partially reconstitute without medication, at least partly," says Garver. "But medication is a critical mainstay to help people regain a reasonable level of recovery."

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