Did you catch the famous Dr. Tom Cruise raving about the evils of psychiatry while making the media rounds in support of his new movie, “War of the Worlds”?
On “Oprah,” he frolicked on a couch while declaring his love for his latest actress paramour before a rapt and cheering audience. He is handsome, after all. And famous.
Dr. Tom ranted against all use of psychiatric drugs — against psychiatry itself — and ripped actress Brooke Shields for using the drug Paxil to help with post-partum depression.
A few days later, the good doctor lectured “Today” show host Matt Lauer: “Here’s the problem,” Cruise said, eyes narrowed as he leaned toward the mild-mannered Lauer. “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do. There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance.”
The overprescription of psychiatric drugs is a legitimate question for debate. But Lauer’s simple point was that, for some people, drugs work. Dr. Tom demurred, and implied that all who seek psychiatric help wind up stoned or electro-convulsed against their will.
– War of Words.
Here’s the problem: Dr. Tom is not a doctor, but he is a student of the pay-to-play religion, Scientology. One of the central tenets of his belief system, invented by the late pulp sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, is that people need Scientology — at the cost of thousands of dollars — not psychiatry.
Sure they do. This is a religion that claims all our problems are caused by ghosts of humans executed millions of years ago at the hands of the alien Xemu. Look it up.
Judy Eron knows all too well that psychiatric meds can be a lifesaver. Her late husband, Jim, had severe manic depression. When he took himself off lithium, he went into a mania that led to his 1997 suicide, a sad story she recounts in her new book, “What Goes Up …: Surviving the Manic Episode of a Loved One.”
“After watching what happened to Jim from not taking four pink capsules a day, for Cruise to say there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance is so wrong, so unkind,” she said by phone from her home in the Big Bend country of Texas.
Psychiatric meds do help some people. So why does Dr. Tom feel compelled to condemn all psychiatry, even talk therapy?
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted at What judges have to say about Scientology
“The analogy to a disease like diabetes is very real,” says Eron, a former therapist who was herself somewhat skeptical of medication before her experience with Jim. “Would Tom Cruise say people shouldn’t take insulin?”
The argument from Scientology is that diabetes can be firmly diagnosed through physical tests, but you can’t tell someone is bipolar by looking at a slide.
True. But modern scanning technology definitively has shown brain abnormalities in people with mental disorders, as well as the effectiveness of medication.
But doctors also use trials with medication to empirically diagnose mental illness. In other words, if the meds help relieve the symptoms, a patient may have a mental disorder. If drugs don’t work, nobody forces anyone to take them.
Eron’s book not only tells Jim’s tragic story, but also addresses how families and friends can better cope with someone living with mental illness. More than anything, Eron says, families and friends should do pre-planning to deal with a severe episode.
“We could have done better,” she says of Jim and herself. “We could have had a discussion: ‘At some point, it’s highly likely that I will act extremely different than you know me to be. … In that case, here are some things I think we should do.'”
Tom Cruise’s science-fiction religion works for him. But medication works for other people, and his celebrity tantrums just might lead to avoidable tragedies.
Judy Eron will speak at 7 p.m. Friday at the Atrium, 3350 30th St., Boulder.