By Dr. Peter Breggin
On June 25, 2005 Tom Cruise did the unthinkable on TV. Actually, he did several “unthinkables” in a filmed interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer for the Today Show.
First, Tom stopped smiling. He deprived us of that multi-million dollar grin and got serious. For a star to do this to the American public was unthinkable.
Second, Tom pointed out that Matt Lauer actually was very “glib” (shallow) and didn’t know what he was talking about. He also urged Matt to be “more responsible” and to learn something about psychiatry before touting it. For a star to do this to a media personality was unthinkable. Since nearly all of them are shallow, this was a threat of potentially epidemic proportions. Suppose other guests began pointing out that media hosts don’t know what they are talking about and are shallow?
Third, he got serious about one of the most important issues in our personal lives, in this case our widespread use of psychiatric drugs to solve our personal distress and anguish. Tom concluded, “I’m passionate about life.” For anyone to speak this way on television, except perhaps on the Catholic channel, is truly beyond the TV pale; and even the Catholic channel doesn’t criticize psychiatry.
Fourth, he criticized psychiatry and drew attention to its genuine flaws and failings. I suspect he’s actually read my book, Toxic Psychiatry. Tom said that psychiatry had a long history of abusing people, including electroshock. He said, “There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.” He said that antidepressants can only “mask the problem” and that “these drugs are very dangerous.” He called psychiatry a “pseudoscience” and suggested that there are better approaches. He was right about all of this.
A few days later NBC invited me to New York City as a psychiatric expert to discuss the Tom Cruise affair on the Today Show, and when I began by saying it sounded like Tom had been doing some serious reading about psychiatry, I got cut off, again and again, throughout the show.
Why was the media both drawn into the story and shocked by it? It was too good a story to simply ignore: “Tom Cruise Gone Wild” was the theme. It should have been, “Tom Cruise gets serious.”
The media would have liked to attack Tom on the grounds that he’s a Scientologist. Scientologists seem to share a number of views about psychiatry with me, including everything Tom said. In fact, I’d go further. Modern biological psychiatry is a materialistic religion masquerading as a science.
How can I say that my profession of psychiatry is a materialistic religion? Because modern psychiatry makes believe that psychological and spiritual problems, such as anxiety and depression, are caused by mechanical failures in the physical brain, and because psychiatry then attempts to correct these psychological and spiritual problems with physical interventions such as drugs and electroshock. Modern biological psychiatry takes these views and implements these interventions on faith and it has won a lot of converts with the help of billion-dollar marketing campaigns. If you want more detailed analyses of the faith and fake science behind the claims of modern psychiatry, you’ll find them in my books such as Toxic Psychiatry (1991), Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (1997), Talking Back to Ritalin (Revised, 2001), the Antidepressant Fact Book (2001) and the Ritalin Fact Book (2002). You can find my scientific papers on my website. In my books and on the website you’ll also find discussions of the many drug-free alternatives that are available for helping people with problems such as anxiety and depression.
The media kept hinting that the problem was Tom’s Scientology beliefs but they didn’t want to say it. To some extent it’s not politically correct to criticize someone’s religion, especially when people like Tom and John Travolta are members. But that was really not the issue. The media is afraid of Scientology because the religion has been extremely aggressive toward media critics, often charging them or threatening to charge them with libel and slander.
I was also invited on to CNBC’s the Donny Deutche talk show. This time I remained in Ithaca, New York, only a few blocks from my office in a high tech TV studio. I was kept waiting in front of the live camera for almost an hour and a half to get a word in as I watched Tom get excoriated. Although I could see the show on the uplink for this entire time as I sat waiting at any moment to be called upon, they decided not to link me into the show at all and I never got to say a thing in Tom’s defense or in criticism of biological psychiatry, drugs and electroshock. Sitting upright that long without twitching in anticipation of momentarily appearing on millions of televisions was hard enough, but listening to Donny was worse.
While I sat listening to the CNBC show that I was never brought onto, I felt a mixture of outrage and sadness. Outrage that the show host Donny Deutche bragged up his work in advertising where he helped to produce the Zoloft TV ads with their clever little bouncing faces that made the antidepressant so much more “accessible,” in his words, to millions of Americans. Donny was bragging about an actual fraud—ads that falsely suggest that Zoloft corrects biochemical imbalances and that leave out the warning that the drug causes mania, not to mention psychosis, violence and suicide.
What was tragic? Donny’s guest was Jane Pauley who was flogging her new book, Out of the Blue. Jane is the epitome of a media personality, having anchored the Today Show with Tom Brokaw and Bryant Gumbel, and having earned many broadcast awards. Jane is also a promoter of psychiatry. She admitted to having developed “hypomanic” (milder than full-blown mania) symptoms on an antidepressant. At the time, she explained, her mind and thoughts were racing and she couldn’t control them. But then she added that of course the drug didn’t make her become manic; the drug just “brought out” her underlying or pre-existing bipolar disorder.
Of course, I don’t know anything about Jane Pauley except what she’s told us and she’s not really the issue. Celebrities are actively recruited by marketing departments to promote medical and psychiatric treatments. I do know that psychiatrists often lie to patients to protect themselves and their drugs. My colleagues lie by saying the antidepressant merely “brought out” their mania, psychosis, violence or depression, rather than the drug caused it in the otherwise innocent victim. Jane Pauley thinks she is a victim of bipolar disorder when she sounds to me like a victim of psychiatry.
It’s no small matter to falsely inform a person that their drug-induced mania shows they have bipolar disorder. It results in a false diagnosis and a stigmatizing label (bipolar or manic-depressive disorder) that follows people for the rest of their lives. It leads to additional medications, often including antipsychotic drugs like Zyprexa and Risperdal that can cause lethal diabetes and pancreatitis, and tardive dyskinesia, a potentially disfiguring and disabling neurological disorder characterized by bizarre-looking abnormal movements.
So the media personalities had a feast promoting their religion, psychiatry, while Tom Cruise got hammered for criticizing psychiatry, and indirectly promoting his religion, Scientology.
No, I’m not a Scientologist. Except when they occasionally say hello to me at conferences, I have hardly spoken to a Scientologist in more than thirty years. But when I saw Tom’s bravery come out from behind his marvelous smile, I wanted to help, and I made clear I wanted to defend him.
Well, Tom, you said on TV things I’ve been saying in the media and in my books and scientific articles for three decades—but boy did you generate a lot more attention to the issues. Thanks!
Originally published on The Huffington Post.