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Professional News
Cruise Finds Himself at Sea After Antipsychiatry Tirade
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 15 page 7-7
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On June 27 APA President Steven Sharfstein, M.D. (center), was interviewed, along with Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., by Katie Couric on the "Today" program.  NBC News/Today

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 medications.

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 health concerns."

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 serious disease."

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 imbalance."

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 `mental illness.'"

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 subject."

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 strength."

"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." ▪

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On June 27 APA President Steven Sharfstein, M.D. (center), was interviewed, along with Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., by Katie Couric on the "Today" program.  NBC News/Today

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