Schizophrenia is a complicated, terrifying disorder that is often misrepresented in popular media. It is common for the media to portray people with schizophrenia and other schizoid disorders as completely erratic, with complete and detailed audio and visual hallucinations. While individuals suffering from schizophrenia do sometimes suffer hallucinations, hallucinations are not necessary to the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Additionally, it is very rare for visual hallucinations to be detailed.
Schizophrenia presents in many different ways, and no one is certain of what causes the disorder. It is primarily a disorder in thought processes, and as such, many of the symptoms of schizophrenia deal with the way the sufferer interacts with the outside world (NIMH). Essentially, when an individual has schizophrenia, he or she has difficulty telling what is real. Because of this breakdown in reality, the person may act inappropriately in certain social situations or have inappropriate emotional responses to completely normal, everyday situations (PubMed Health).
Schizophrenia is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized or slurred speech, and disorganized behavior (NIMH). Individuals suffering from the disorder may also experience social or work-related problems; marriages may break up, or the sufferer may lose his or her job. Finally, the symptoms of schizophrenia must be present for a significant period of time for an individual to be diagnosed with the disorder (NIMH). Diagnosing mental disorders is a complex process, but most individuals presenting with schizophrenia will experience auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. Most sufferers are male, although women are not exempt from the disease; the onset for most individuals is late adolescence or young adulthood. It is thought that schizophrenia is born from a combination of environmental and genetic factors (Dryden-Edwards). There are a variety of different types of schizophrenia, but the type most commonly presented in popular media is that of the paranoid schizophrenic.
One of the most famous sufferers of schizophrenia was John Forbes Nash, Jr. Nash is one of the pre-eminent mathematicians of the twenty-first century; he is also a paranoid schizophrenic. Born on June 13, 1928, Nash has had a long and productive career despite his struggles with schizophrenia. Nash completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Carnegie Mellon university, studying mathematics, but it was not until he accepted a scholarship to Princeton University to achieve a doctorate that his genius truly started to emerge (Nasar).
In A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar writes extensively about the academic climate of Princeton during World War II. The mathematics department was home to some of the premier mathematicians of the day, all focused on turning out students with the ability to produce original research. Doctorate students at Princeton in mathematics during this time were focused on originality and research ability, both of which Nash had in spades. Once Nash graduated from Princeton, he published a variety of works on game theory, focusing on non-cooperative games. In 1951, Nash accepted a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was relatively soon after he accepted the teaching position that he began to show signs of increasing mental distress (Nasar).
During his time at MIT, Nash had met, wooed, and wed a young physics student by the name of Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé. She began to notice that Nash had moments of erratic, almost delusional episodes that passed quickly but never really abated. What she did not realize was that her husband was quickly getting sucked into the delusion and paranoia of schizophrenia. At the height of his unmedicated schizophrenia, Nash believed that the government was watching his every move; she had him committed to a psychiatric facility in 1959 (Nasar).
Upon his release from the psychiatric facility, Nash did not recover from his schizophrenic delusions. Instead, he fled to Europe, where he tried to renounce his citizenship and gain asylum in France and East Germany. Both countries refused him, and the American government had him returned to American soil, where he was once again placed in a psychiatric facility (Nasar).
Despite his mental illness, Nash was an incredibly prolific mathematician, winning a variety of prizes over the years and contributing greatly to economic theory, game theory, and even decryption theory (Nasar). Arguably, Nash’s greatest achievement was his Nobel Prize, awarded in 1994. The prize was co-awarded with two other mathematicians, and was awarded as a result of their work on the various types of game theory that Nash had developed as a graduate student (Nasar).
Nash’s story is certainly extraordinary. It takes an extraordinary mind to survive schizophrenic delusions, and the fact that Nash not only survived, but went on to live a fruitful, if not troubled, life is a testament to his inner strength and will. The world is lucky that John Forbes Nash Jr was able to fight through the cloud of delusion and paranoia that schizophrenia pulled over his eyes; without his contributions to the world of mathematics, the world could very well be a different place than it is today. Nash himself is lucky that he had the support of the individuals that make up the world of mathematics; without their belief in his genius, it would have been very difficult for him to continue to achieve at a high level after he first began to display signs of mental distress.
Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. "Types of Schizophrenia." WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
Nasar, Sylvia (November 13, 1994). "The Lost Years of a Nobel Laureate". New York Times.
Nasar, Sylvia. A beautiful mind: a biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, 1994. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.
Neubauer, David (June 1, 2007). "John Nash and a Beautiful Mind on Strike". Yahoo Health.
NIMH - Schizophrenia." NIMH . N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
""Schizophrenia - PubMed Health."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.