Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 / 9 Nisan, 5762
Dr. Michael A. Glueck
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | To the already overlong list of entertainment awards -- more than 100 at last count -- let's add one more for the film that significantly changes the face and perception of medical diagnosis and treatment, and makes a difference in the lives of many.
No, I am not talking about "John Q," a pathetic effort that overlooks the simple fact that there are not enough hearts available to transplant, no matter how much hospitals, insurance companies, doctors, or families pay -- or threaten.
The film that did make a difference in 2001 was "A Beautiful Mind," directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe. What other films have done for human frailty, organic illness, autism, retardation, and disability, this film does for those afflicted with mental illness, in particular that most mysterious of all mental illnesses, schizophrenia.
This indeed is an area where Hollywood can excel. Their talents can make us pause, think, raise our awareness, reconsider; they can lift our spirits and allow us to see hope for the future. "Children of a Lesser G-d" let us hear the silent call of the deaf. "Rain Man" showed us the trials of the autistic. "Forrest Gump" presented the struggle of the retarded to gain (and regain) respectability and respect. In "A Beautiful Mind" we feel the inner torment of the mentally ill patient and the suffering of those close to him. Our conscience and morality are raised to a higher level, and our adrenaline stirred.
"A Beautiful Mind" tells the story of the rise, dramatic debilitating fall to mental illness, and triumphant return of brilliant Princeton mathematician John Nash. His discoveries -- known as the Nash Equilibrium -- ultimately led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994.
Therefore, for making a difference to millions, my first annual Caduceus Movie Award goes to "A Beautiful Mind" and to Ron Howard for having the intestinal fortitude to tell us this painful tale while lifting us from the hollows of hell to the heaven of humanism. And also to Russell Crowe for playing John Nash with an intensely beating heart and palpable pulse -- and to Jennifer Connelly, as well, for playing Nash's wife with guts and spleen. After other movies fade into the faintest of memories this one will remain indelibly engraved in the cortex and gyri of our brain.
But let's be clear here. The award is merited for reasons far different from touchy-feeliness or crude moralism. Recent violent events, from the Columbine shootings to the Andrea Yates murders, reinforce the proposition that early treatment of mental illness is far less costly than picking up the pieces, and the bodies, later. Yet the issue of integrating mental health into mainline general medical care continues to frustrate the nation, individual states, managed health-care insurers, doctors, families, and patients.
One reason is people's disgusted rejection of the whole culture of psychobabble, self- obsession, and the "abuse excuse." That's understandable. But a deeper reason is that the nation suffers from a kind of mental-illness phobia. There are still those in our midst who view mental illness as a stigma instead of as a set of complex conditions, some of which respond to medication in the same way a diabetic responds to insulin or an arthritic to the latest anti-inflammatories such as Vioxx or Celebrex.
Psychiatric illness is the number-one reason for hospital admissions nationwide. At any given time 21 percent of hospital beds are filled with those patients. Fortunately, they can be treated with prescription medications and aided by counseling.
Also fortunately, some states have begun to require that mental health treatment be covered in the same way as other medical care. That concept is known as "parity." Mental- health parity laws require insurers to handle six biologically based mental illnesses the same way they do other organic diseases: those six are schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorders, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Unfortunately, the federales still don't get it. In a statement on December 18, 2001, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reported: "A conference committee of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted to drop the mental health parity amendment from the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3061). Key House leaders remained opposed to the provision until the end."
The alliance went on to comment: "Killing the amendment was more than a disappointment to individuals with mental illnesses and their families. It is an outrage -- representing a conscious decision to protect unconscionable discrimination."
It's also another example of the government's notorious "do as I say, not as I do" attitude. Members of Congress already have health insurance providing parity for mental health benefits. So do other federal workers.
This congressionally enforced insurance discrimination kills. Ninety percent of all suicides are the result of mental illness.
Proponents of parity believe that, with economic facts and medical science on their side, it is only a matter of time until all 50 states mandate equal coverage of both physical and mental illness. Listen to them, America.
Whether "A Beautiful Mind" wins an Oscar or Oscars doesn't matter all that much. It did its job. There is now more understanding and hope for the mentally ill. There is some new light glimmering within the dark shadow of mental illness.
And that's important, because there are far too
many beautiful minds for us to
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