Actor Tom Cruise has turned the publicity tour for his new movie,"
War of the Worlds," into a war of words between psychiatry and
the Church of Scientology.
Cruise, one of Scientology's most visible adherents, has been using the
promotional tour as a forum in which to disparage psychiatry, dismiss the
reality of mental illness, and condemn the use of psychotropic
The statements, which he made in an interview with "Access
Hollywood" on May 26 and repeated on the "Today" show on
June 24, among other venues, have been so inflammatory that television
networks and print media quickly contacted APA for a response. On June 24 CNN
correspondent Wolf Blitzer interviewed APA Medical Director James H. Scully
Jr., M.D., about Cruise's comments, and parts of the interview were aired over
the following weekend.
On June 27 APA President Steven Sharfstein, M.D., was interviewed, along
with Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., by Katie Couric on the"
Today" program. On that broadcast Sharfstein labeled "total
nonsense" the idea put forth by Cruise, and by Glenmullen in the Couric
interview, that there is no evidence that drugs correct a chemical imbalance
in the brain.
The July 1 issue of People featured comments from Sharfstein,
former APA President Paul Appelbaum, M.D., and APA Vice President Nada
Stotland, M.D. Stotland was also interviewed by Anderson Cooper on his CNN
program after he completed a devastating grilling of a Church of Scientology
leader who labeled all psychiatric treatment harmful and brutal.
Even the British Broadcasting Company jumped into the fray, recounting some
of Cruise's remarks and APA's formal response to them. That response quoted
Sharfstein as stating that it was "irresponsible" for Cruise to
use a movie publicity tour "to promote his own ideological views and
deter people with mental illness from getting the care they need."
Further, the APA statement emphasized that not only have the nation's
leading scientific and academic institutions made major discoveries about
mental illness, but that "safe and effective treatments are
available" for a broad range of these disorders. The actor may maintain
that psychiatric treatment is a sham, but, APA stated, "rigorous,
published, peer-reviewed research clearly demonstrates that treatment
works.... As in other areas of medicine, medications are a safe and effective
way to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans who have mental
The war of the words ratcheted into high gear after the June 24"
Today" show in which Matt Lauer interviewed Cruise. Cruise
condemned actress Brooke Shields for taking the antidepressant Paxil to combat
postpartum depression. Shields had previously disclosed the psychiatric
treatment she received and benefited from after the 2003 birth of her daughter
and wrote a book about her experiences, Down Came the Rain: My Journey
Through Postpartum Depression, which was published in May.
Cruise said in response to Shields' disclosure, "These drugs are
dangerous. I have actually helped people come off them. When you talk about
postpartum depression, you can take people today, women, and what you do is
use vitamins." He added in the Lauer interview that all antidepressants
do "is mask the problem.... These drugs are very dangerous. They're
mind-altering antipsychotic drugs."
Shields responded in a July 1 New York Times column that on behalf
of "hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered from postpartum
depression," she was writing to say that psychiatric treatment works."
The drugs, along with weekly therapy sessions, are what saved
me—and my family," she said. "If any good can come of Mr.
Cruise's ridiculous rant, let's hope that it gives much-needed attention to a
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a "psychiatric
watchdog group" founded by the Church of Scientology, issued a press
release two days after Cruise's "Today" interview supporting the
actor's views on mental health care. It stressed that psychiatric drugs are
prescribed for a "chemical imbalance, which experts say doesn't
exist" and cites a documentary it produced "that includes
prominent doctors, neurologists, and psychiatrists debunking the hoax of
mental disorders being physically based or the result of a chemical
The statement quotes CCHR's international president, Jan Eastgate, as
saying that APA and its "affiliated mental health organizations... tout
false statistics to the media about the number of Americans suffering from
Several APA members around the country have been quoted in their local
media after newspapers and broadcast stations called district branches
requesting a psychiatrist to respond to the Cruise interview. And newspapers
throughout the country have used their editorial pages as a forum to point out
the absurdity of Cruise's arguments.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, said, "Cruise's
comments add to society's stigmatization of persons who take drugs for a
mental illness that... can keep some new mothers from spiraling into a
darkness so deep that they want no part of their babies.... Managing
postpartum depression with therapies that include drugs has been studied and
documented by folks who, unlike Cruise, actually have expertise in the
A Toledo Blade editorial writer said, "I don't understand
why an ideology such as [Scientology] would reject solid scientific evidence
about the chemical makeup of the brain and human body."
The Dallas Morning News called Cruise's statements about treating
depression "absurd" and opined that "interviewers...
shouldn't give this popular celebrity a platform to harass without challenge
clinically depressed people and the doctors who help them."
APA, in addition to issuing its own statement condemning and correcting
Cruise's statements, joined with the National Mental Health Association and
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in issuing a press release in the form
of a fact sheet. It pointed out, for example, that the last decade produced"
a vastly expanded understanding of postpartum depression, bipolar
disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder" and that
research has demonstrated that a range of safe and effective treatments is
available for these and other mental illnesses.
"It is unfortunate that in the face of this remarkable scientific and
clinical progress, a small number of individuals and groups persist in
questioning its legitimacy," the statement emphasized. "Mental
illnesses are highly treatable, and seeking help is a sign of
"Mr. Cruise may be a halfway decent actor," Sharfstein said on
the "Today" show, "but when he starts to play doctor, he is
being totally irresponsible." ▪