Much has been learned about schizophrenia over just the past fifty years or so, but many aspects of this psychiatric disorder still remain a mystery.
It knows no boundaries and affects men, women and children. There are numerous accounts of famous people with schizophrenia.
Some are famous in their own right and some are well-known due to a diagnosis of schizophrenia that is deemed responsible for their actions.
John Nash, Schizophrenia and a 30-Year Struggle
John Forbes Nash, Jr. is one of several famous people with schizophrenia.
He was born on June 13, 1928.
He was a brilliant mathematician who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1959 after being hospitalized at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
He became an instructor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduating from Princeton University.
In 1958 Nash was featured in Fortune Magazine as “one of the brightest stars in the field of mathematics.”
It was during his teaching career at MIT that he began to experience symptoms of schizophrenia. After his marriage to Alicia Larde and before the birth of their son in 1959, Nash was hospitalized due to the deterioration of his mental state.
Nash would often appoint a graduate student to teach his class on game theory and disappear for weeks at a time. When he would reappear, he claimed that coded messages were being sent to him by aliens through the New York Times.
Nash once interrupted a lecture to tell students that he was disguised as the Pope on the cover of LIFE magazine. He also informed them that he knew this was so because his favorite prime number was twenty-three.
It was also during this time that he thought people wearing red ties belonged to a secret communist organization. He was offered an esteemed position at the University of Chicago and declined saying he was scheduled to become the emperor of Antarctica.
These are positive symptoms of schizophrenia. In addition, schizophrenia voices may be experienced. This is when the person with this disorder hears voices inside their head. His behavior began to upset students to the point that he was removed from his teaching position.
The Struggle to Overcome
After being committed to Trenton State Hospital in 1961, John Nash received treatments which included insulin-coma therapy. This schizophrenia treatment included injecting large amounts of insulin into patients causing them to go into a coma.
The treatment often caused seizures.
Although Nash received these treatments for six months and it seemed as though his illness had gone into remission, it did return and he suffered for many years before a recovery was achieved.
Treatments of schizophrenia that included insulin-coma therapy were first introduced in the 1930s, at about the same time as electroshock therapy. In addition to the seizures experienced by many who underwent insulin-coma therapy, severe loss of memory and fractures as well as prolonged coma were often risks. A 1% to 10% mortality rate was another result of the therapy.
One of the questions most frequently asked about insulin-coma is why families allowed the treatments that were considered so dangerous? These treatments were considered the best cure for schizophrenia at the time.
After six months he was released. Over the next few years, Nash was also treated by a psychiatrist who prescribed psychotic drugs, which for a time helped.
During the 1980s Nash finally triumphed over his mental illness.
He credits his recovery with his own decision to concentrate on thinking rationally and ignoring the voices that are a part of delusional symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. His theories are used in accounting, artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, and computing and market economics.
His biography “A Beautiful Mind” chronicles his life as a mathematical genius and his 30-year struggle to overcome paranoid schizophrenia. A movie by the same name was released in 2001.
Other Famous People with Schizophrenia
Celebrities with schizophrenia or people who are well known because of their ties to famous people include relatives.
The autobiography of Alan Alda, an actor that was known for many years as “Hawkeye Pierce” on the long-running Mash series, discusses his mother’s schizophrenia as well as other aspects of his childhood.
Joan Alda, a former Miss New York, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia that included psychotic episodes so severe that she once tried to stab his father. Her delusions included thoughts that everyone was trying to kill her – even her son, Alan.
His biography discusses the stigma that was associated with mental illness when he was young and how it was never discussed.
Today, he credits his understanding of his mother’s behavior with learning about the effects of schizophrenia; for example, the hallucinations.
He now understands that they originate in the same part of the brain from which nightmares originate.
Famous people with schizophrenia include Lionel Aldridge, a football player and winner of three world championships, including two Super Bowls, who played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.
He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the late 1970s. The illness cost him his job as a sports analyst and resulted in the loss of his wife and family.
For more than 10 years, he battled the symptoms of schizophrenia and was homeless for periods of time.
His illness was wrongly diagnosed in the beginning, which had a severe impact on treatment.
According to Aldridge, recovery began when he realized he had a problem.
During a speaking engagement to help others understand the illness, he said, “I had gone 10 years without getting any kind of treatment. Once I accepted and cooperated with the treatment, I started to beat the illness.”
Finally reaching a balance, he worked was actively involved in support for the mentally ill and the homeless until he died in 1998. Often famous people with schizophrenia can be quite an inspiration to others to seek treatment.
Intellect, Talent and Famous People with Schizophrenia
Although the world is full of people who are highly intelligent and those with a variety of talents, there are many who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders that have contributed greatly to the music, art and science. John Nash, who was discussed earlier, is one of the famous people with schizophrenia, who has contributed.
Many stars of the stage and screen as well as talented musicians have suffered from schizophrenia. A few more examples of famous people with schizophrenia in addition to the ones that have already been mentioned include Tom Harrell, renowned American Jazz trumpeter; Brian Wilson, Beach Boy’s song writer and singer, who had a variant of the disorder; artists, Heinrich Auton Muller and Adolf Wolfi and Charles Bolden, credited with the jazz movement.
Studies of historical figures have been conducted by researchers in an attempt to determine how many had psychiatric illnesses. One such study in 1949 conducted by Adele Juda included 113 German writers, composers, architects and artists. Her findings concluded that one-third suffered from major depression, bipolar disease and schizophrenia.
This research indicates several things.
One, those who have schizophrenia and other mental disorders can contribute meaningfully to society.
Two, there may be a very fine line between genius and mental disorders. Data is preliminary, but ongoing research as to the influence of mood on artists and scientists may provide some answers in the future.
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