Case Study of John Forbes Nash Jr.

Category: Case Study


This paper is aimed at studying the case of John Forbes Nash Jr. He is a distinguished American mathematician and Noble Prize winner. At the same time, John Nash suffered from schizophrenia. His case was illustrated in the movie A Beautiful Mind (2001). The paper will be mostly focused on his depiction in the film. Thus, at first the movie will be viewed in order to indicate Nash’s symptoms and evidence of his disease manifestation. Afterwards, to support the diagnosis, it would be significant to refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR (2000) and other relevant sources. The main part of the research contains psychological conceptualization, examination, and assessment of the disease, which was effectively presented in the film. In addition, some medical treatments will be suggested for this case. To cover all the aspects in detail, journal articles and reviews related to the case of John Nash will be taken into account.

John Forbes Nash Jr. from A Beautiful Mind

The main character of the movie A Beautiful Mind suffered from schizophrenia. In order to establish his diagnosis and symptoms, his story should be analyzed. To begin with, John Nash arrived at Princeton University in 1947. He was a creative mathematician who wanted to make a great discovery. After he became a Doctor, he was invited to the Pentagon, as he had a talent for breaking codes. Workers of the Pentagon even implanted a special chip into him, which was a kind of a key to secret buildings. He succeeded in his business so that he could lead a comfortable life teaching students and taking part in different math conferences. Later, he started to search for secret codes in magazine articles and send these codes to the US Department of Defense. Then he fell in love with his student, Alicia Larde, and married her. Later, he started to fear for his life and his family’s future, as his work began to be dangerous. His attempts to run away from international agents led him to Dr. Rosen’s office, where he was treated by insulin shock therapy. During many years, he was trying to recover from his hallucinations and schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is “a persistent, often chronic and usually serious mental disorder affecting a variety of aspects of behavior, thinking, and emotion” (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). The symptoms of this disease are divided into negative and positive. The character had numerous positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions, hallucinations, catatonic behavior, disorganized speech, and some negative symptoms.

Delusion is a belief in something that a person considers real, though there is superior evidence of the contrary. John Hash had a mood-congruent type of delusion, as he had a mania. His mania was in his desire to be the best, the most genius mathematician, and the most successful person. He always told everyone that he was the best. He wanted to discover something new and controversial in math. He was proud and self-confident and he did not pay much attention to his failures. For example, when he was playing with Martin in the yard of Princeton University, he was very surprised when Martin won because he thought that he was the winner, the smartest and the most talented player. When he had some difficulties with writing a scientific paper and its publishing, he was so disappointed that he broke the window with his head. Nash was so convinced in his genius and excellence that sometimes he forgot about satisfying his basic needs, such as food and sleep.

According to Freeman and Garety, persecutory delusions consist of the patient’s fear of being harmed and seized by a persecutor who is going to make the patient suffer (2004). As it is mentioned in the DSM-IV-TR, persecutory delusions are the most widespread form of delusions among people suffering from schizophrenia. In the case of John Nash, this kind of delusion is also manifested, as the character suggested that he was “being tormented, followed, tricked, spied on, or ridiculed.” These factors prove delusion and mania, which are symptoms of schizophrenia.

Nash had visual, auditory, and feeling hallucinations, which witness the presence of schizophrenia. His first hallucination was his best friend Charles, who became his good advisor and inspiration. Charles was a room-mate of John; however, nobody saw Charles except for John. Charles’ niece, Marcee, was a creature of John’s disordered mind. William Parcher who was friendly to Nash at first made him suffer even when Nash realized that this secret agent did not exist in real life. Nash could not see the line between reality and fiction, as he used to think that his friend and supervisors were real. It may be caused by some psychological traumas, which contributed to his illness. He might have suffered from lack of attention and love in the childhood; that is why, his twisted imagination created people who loved and supported him. It was very difficult for John to maintain relationships with other people, so his mind made him believe that he had true friends and that he was not alone and misunderstood. Schizophrenia caused some other lasting hallucinations, such as a secret mission in the Pentagon. Thus, Marcee, Charles, and Parcher were Nash’s hallucinations caused by his disease.

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The illness was also reflected in catatonic behavior. From the first minutes of the movie, it was clear that Nash was a psychotic patient. His behavior was very strange, especially his disordered gesticulation and unusual speech attracted attention. When John was talking to somebody, he did not look at this person. His gait caught people’s attention. When Nash returned to Princeton University, one of the students copied his strange moves and laughed at him. John Nash was asocial as well because he did not want to establish relationships for a long time. According to his own assumptions, he did not love people and people did not love him. It is worth mentioning that both positive and negative symptoms listed above were manifested in different degree. Sometimes, his behavior seemed to be usual and normal, but he was surrounded by people who did not really exist.

John Nash did not have developmental disorders; at least, they were not shown in the movie. Nevertheless, he had some negative symptoms, in particular, personality disorders. These disorders manifested in Nash’s attitude towards the world and people who surrounded him. For instance, John’s condition is characterized by the persecutory delusion listed above. He supposed that he was working for a secret department in the United States of America. When he wanted to leave his job, he noticed that his conversations were listened to by William Parcher and other soldiers. Nash thought that the spies of the Soviet Union wanted to kill him and decrease the power of the USA. He saw soldiers everywhere. Even while he was presenting his theories during his lecture, he believed that his enemies wanted to catch and harm him.

The character did not have any physical conditions mentioned in the third axis of the DSM-IV. Dr. Rosen did not give a full explanation of the causes of Nash’s illness. John did not suffer from any brain traumas or other illnesses which could cause his death. His case was complicated because John’s disorder was rooted in deeper problems, which may have occurred when he was a child or a teenager. John was not diagnosed with any mental illness, such as autism or idiotism. He could deal with his hallucinations and feelings so that he was given the status of a Doctor. Moreover, the viewers are unaware of some events, both tragic and happy, which might have had an impact on the character’s development.

The fifth axis is the prognosticating stage, which is studied by the psychiatrist. This stage is aimed at analyzing the recent behavior of the patient in order to define further possible changes in his actions and mental health. In Nash’s case, Dr. Rosen claimed that if his patient stopped treatment, the illness could cause more dangerous symptoms and some other irreversible consequences.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, patients who suffer from schizophrenia have a very high suicide rate. Approximately, from 20 to 40 per cent of the patients made attempts of suicide at least once (Task Force on DSM-IV, 2000). By virtue of the efforts of Alicia and Dr. Rosen, John was one of the most fortunate patients who managed to start a new life and live with the disease. Nash was treated with numerous drugs and insulin shock therapy. He had to take the drugs in order to control his disease.


It may be concluded that John Nash’s diagnose, schizophrenia, suggested by Dr. Rosen was correct, as the symptoms (evidence) were sufficient. The illness was reflected in various symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, visions, and catatonic behavior. Nash’s illness was manifested since he finished school; however, it is difficult to define the precise time when it started. Undoubtedly, schizophrenia changed the life of the character and his disorder was not cured completely.

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