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Diagnosing John Nash: A Case of Schizophrenia

Frank Zhou
University of Toronto


In the movie A Beautiful Mind (Howard, 2001), we follow John Nash from his
enrollment in Princeton University in 1947 to his Noble Prize award ceremony in 1994.
Although he was fairly antisocial and regarded by his peers as weird, John only began to develop
hallucinations and delusions after developing his thesis on Game Theory and moving to work at
MIT. Nash was diagnosed with schizophrenia following his marriage with Alicia Larde, where he
was taken in to a psychiatric facility because Alicia was worried about his usual behaviours.
From what is presented in the movie, I believe that the diagnosis of schizophrenia for John Nash
is correct and well backed with evidence. Nash meets all the diagnostic criterions of
Schizophrenia as presented by the DSM-V.
Unfortunately, there are very little prognostic indicators presented in the movie for Nash
developing schizophrenia. There was no mention of genetic vulnerabilities as his family was
almost never mentioned and no indication that his parents were mentally ill. Furthermore, Nash
has stated that he actually came from a well-off family and a good upbringing which implies a
lack of abuse during his early years. His birthday was never mentioned so we are not able to
draw any conclusions of his mental illness possibly arising from season of birth (Kushner, 2015).
As technologies like MRI and CT scans have yet to be developed during his time, we are unable
to find out if his mental illness was from a neurological defect. However, based on his previous
education and the environment of Princeton (and later MIT), we can assume that his growing up
in an urban centre might be a factor to developing schizophrenia (Kushner, 2015). One
maladaptive feature was his lack of interpersonal relationships. Nash himself confessed to his
girlfriend at the time that he didnt really have any close family or friends. This self-isolation
might be a risk factor growing up, but more importantly prevented any therapy based on families


and social interactions, which may have reduced his treatments effectiveness and worsened his
illness (Dozois, 2015).
John Nash meets all the diagnostic criterions for Schizophrenia according to the DSM-V
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Nash meets section A since he experienced both
delusions and hallucinations. In the movie, the two are interconnected as Nash had persecutory,
grandiose, and referential delusions based off his hallucinations. Nash through his hallucinations
met with a government spy and agreed to work for him. His referential delusions are seen as his
job was to decipher Russian codes from magazines and newspapers. Out of all the texts and
numbers, Nash found himself able to pick out specific patterns that seemed to have significant
relevance which he interpreted as Russian code (Dozois, 2015). Grandiose delusions are based
on the idea that Nash thought it was up to him to save America from the bombings of Russia.
The hallucinated government spy, William Parcher, told Nash that Hes the best codebreaker,
which can be interpreted that Nash himself thought he was the best there is, and had the special
ability to save lives. Furthermore, he asked his wife following his capture into the psychiatric
facility to help him find a way to escape, because he was needed by the government for his
abilities. Nashs persecutory delusions can be found throughout the movie after his encounter
with William Parcher. He was suspicious of the people attending the ball during his first dinner
date with Alicia, saw figures in the dark following him and running away while he mailed his
classified deciphered codes, and thought that the psychiatrist diagnosing him was a Russian spy.
Nashs hallucinations included the spy, William Parcher, his best friend and roommate Charles,
and Charles niece Marcee as well as everything that had to do with the government, including
the special passcode device embedded in his left arm. Nash also meets section B of the diagnosis
since his interpersonal relations were affected negatively. He is seen as slowly distancing himself


from his wife, as well as making her anxious. Evidence of the negative interpersonal relationship
include the fact that his wife had to call a psychiatric facility because she felt like something was
unusual about Nash. Section C of the diagnosis is obviously met as Nash is still seen
hallucinating even during his Nobel Prize award ceremony; his illness duration was clearly
beyond 6 months. Section D of the diagnosis is also met because Nash did not show symptoms
of depression or mania. He was focused on his government and mathematical works, and his
mood levels were stable with no signs of great fluctuation. Finally, section E and F of the
diagnosis are also met, because there were no signs of substance abuse or other medical
conditions mentioned, nor an autism spectrum disorder. These were either not evident throughout
the course of the movie, or simply were not mentioned.
It is very clear that John Nash had schizophrenia. In the end he even admitted that he had
hallucinations after he realized that Marcee, his best friends niece, never aged. It was shown that
insulin shock therapy in combination with antipsychotic medication helped treat his
schizophrenia quite effectively. Unfortunately, the side effects of the medication proved to be
damaging his interpersonal relationships with his wife and his work. Ultimately, we are shown
that John Nash is able to cope with his mental illness by opting out of medication and ignoring
his hallucinations. As medication is out of the question, the only treatments left available that I
would recommend are a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and social skills training
(Dozois, 2015). Family therapy is also possible, but he had only his wife to depend on. If the
technology was present, the use of fMRIs and PET scans could help determine any neurological
dysfunctions and treatment can be focused towards that. In the end, however, it seems that John
Nash was able to overcome schizophrenia with the support of his wife and his own will. Despite
his persistent hallucinations, they are no longer negatively affecting his work or his family.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental

disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association
Dozois, D.J.A. (2015). Schizophrenia. In N. Ammai, L. Hartman, W. Heinrichs, E. Muharib, F.
Pinnock (Eds.). Abnormal Psychology Perspectives Fifth Edition DSM-5 Update Edition.
(pp. 205-232) Toronto: Pearson Canada.
Grazer B., Howard R. (Producers), & Howard R. (Director). (2001). A Beautiful Mind [Motion
Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures & Dreamwork Studios
Kushner, S. (2015). Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders [PowerPoint slides].
Retrieved from