“Good morning eager young minds”, John Nash’s words from the Oscar winning ‘A beautiful mind’ seem like an appropriate sentiment for any event at the British Science Festival. These words were all the more poignant embedded within screenplay which explores schizophrenia and its perceptions within society. The film was screened as part of the ‘blowing the mind in the media’ event and was followed by a lively debate on how mental illness is perceived within the media.
‘A beautiful mind’ explores the life of schizophrenic Nobel Prize winner John Nash and his endeavours in the academic arena as well as within his personal life. A stellar cast including Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany play out this tragic yet inspiring story of love, maths and mental illness to a standard befitting the four academy awards that the film received. I am sure that many of the audience will have experienced this masterpiece of cinema prior to this event, however few will have been able to add such context to the movie as was possible through the view of the incredibly knowledgeable professionals such as those present at the event.
Having got over the initial shock of the striking resemblance between one of the speakers and Paul Bettany’s schizophrenia induced character, I found the debate to be highly engaging and entertaining. Subjects of conversation ranged from the trivial to the profound. The trivial coming in the form of an elderly woman’s questionable liking of John Nash’s chat-up lines. These included the somewhat blunt “Essentially we are talking about fluid exchange, right?” whilst constructing a seemingly poor attempt at a proposition. Also discussed was the proportion of cowboy movies compared to those with psychiatrists as their subject matter which are apparently much more frequent, although we were told that by a psychiatrist so make your own mind up on what to believe.
Despite the trivial and at times humorous topics keeping the debate and the laughter flowing nicely, the bulk of the debate tackled issues of ethical and social significance. These included factual inaccuracies in Hollywood and how they may create a double edge to the sword of increased awareness. Also touched upon was the old fashioned ‘out of sight, out of mind’ view of mental illness. This was often characterised by out of town asylums and was perhaps the most poignant subject of the talk with Dr Alan Marcus explaining, quite incredibly, his own families experience with both mental health in an old fashioned world and Nobel Prizes.
After the emotive rollercoaster of the film, the ethically taxing issues of the debate and the 45 minute walk home I was a bit knackered but could honestly say that I was no longer ‘terrified, mortified, petrified’ or ‘stupified’ by the subject of mental health.
Tom Feltham is a student at Newcastle University studying for a BSc (Hons) in Genetics. He also has his own blog, including a number of posts from the Festival at sciencepopularis.com. He attended the Festival as part of the British Science Festival Student Bursary Scheme.