Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Remembering John and Alicia Nash: Brilliance, Sacrifice, Undeniable Courage, and the Devotion Caregivers Have for their Loved Ones with Mental Illness

Remembering John and Alicia Nash: Brilliance, Sacrifice, Undeniable Courage, and the Devotion Caregivers Have for their Loved Ones with Mental Illness

Director, Strategic Development

I write this blog post with mixed emotions. Last week I was excited to learn that J&J received approval by the FDA for a new schizophrenia treatment option, INVEGA TRINZA™ (three-month paliperidone palmitate), marking the first and only schizophrenia medication to be administered four times a year. It's a major win for the mental health community and comes during National Mental Health Awareness Month-an opportune time if there ever was one.

But meanwhile, this week, along with my Princeton community, I'm saddened by the loss of John and Alicia Nash, who both died tragically returning home from the airport after a trip to Norway where Dr. Nash received the Abel Prize for contributions to the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations and its applications to geometric analysis. You might have already read some heartwarming articles written in remembrance of this beautiful couple. Maybe you've re-aquanted yourself with their love-story, their accomplishments, their very harsh struggles with Dr. Nash's mental illness-schizophrenia-and their undeniable courage. Perhaps you  searched your movie cabinet to watch A Beautiful Mind again as tribute to this amazing and distinctive husband and wife team who had a relationship, hands down, to be respected. 

Dr. Nash is most notably remembered for receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.  Mrs. Nash was a physics major at MIT, one of 16 woman in the class of 1955, which had 800 men. She then worked in computer sciences, becoming a female pioneer. Her life was difficult, but she tried to remain positive and lived devoted to her family and becoming the stabilizing force behind the brilliant mathmatician.  

There are more than 65 million family caregivers in the United States who provide care for a family member or friend in need, including those providing care for loved ones with mental illnesses. The toll that mental illness takes on families is often unspoken. Caregivers tend to be selfless without recognizing their own need for care. Studies have found that caregivers have higher levels of depression and stress.  Women caregivers are particulary at risk for increased stress, anxiety, exhaustion, depression, reduced immune response, and poor physical health. According to recent research, more than one-third of caregivers provide continuing care to loved ones even while in poor health.

Realistically, most caregivers of a loved one with mental illness feel ill prepared. Often, they experience a steep learning curve of medical terms and medications, health care systems, being an advocate, and understanding legalities of their loved ones situation or becoming a legally authorized representative (LAR) .  Their lives are turned upside down, many natural supports they have relied on (extended family, friends, co-workers)  in the past are no longer available, often due to lack of awareness and stigma about mental illness. Many caregivers also have full- or part-time jobs, children, and relationships, and must also balance social and overall health. 

There are many ways to support a caregiver or to get involved with fighting the stigma of mental illness-from being part of their support network, helping  them research resources that may be available to better support their needs, educating yourself about mental illenss, or volunteering and getting involved with local organizations and support groups.

"In the mental health field, John and Alicia are very much heroes because they were really one of the first public figures who would lend their stature and put their name to the cause of breaking down stereotypes and humanizing people with mental illness," Debra Wentz, a mental health lobbyist, told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2009.  My sincere condolences are extended to the Nash family, their close friends, to my community in Princeton and the University, and to the all the heroes who are the stabilizing force to a loved one with mental illness. 

 

Caregiving for a loved one with mental illness is a journey best taken one step at a time. Check out the following resources for additional information:

http://www.mindsfoundation.org

http://www.psychiatry.org

https://www.nami.org

http://psychcentral.com

http://www.cmhnetwork.org

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

http://www.mentalhealth.gov

http://www.nimh.nih.gov

 

 

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