It’s one thing for a celebrity to advocate for mental health awareness and education; it’s quite another for a celebrity to advocate for the use, or nonuse, of certain mental health treatments, which is what some folks in the mental health world feel actor John Travolta did when he told CNN that his way of thinking about psychiatry and psychiatric medicines lines up with the stances taken by Tom Cruise and Travolta’s religion, Scientology.

In other words, psychiatry and medicine are no good.

Folks involved in the mental health world might be quick to lash out at Travolta for having this opinion. Fighting the Darkness, a PsychCentral.com member blog, points out that these celebrities are speaking out about “treating an illness they have never experienced and have no real education about.”

This is a slippery turf, though, I think.

19 Comments to
John Travolta On Psychiatric Medicine: No, Thanks

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  1. We as a society need to end our need to see celebrities as super human. I care as much about their opinion as I do the guy at the check out at my local grocery store. We expect them to be perfect and when the fail because they are only human we chastise and bombard them as if they should be reprimanded for being less than perfect.

  2. Part of me wants to say that celebrities should know the huge influence they have, but on the other hand, if people want to be influenced by celebrities, let them.

  3. This is definitely slipper turf! While I know medication has been critical to my recovery, I also know others with mental illness who feel otherwise. It really comes down to personal choice. I also wouldn’t assume that Cruise and Travolta have no experience with mental health issues, else why express such an opinion in the first place? I agree such press does more damage than good, however, in only encouraging those who struggle to continue to avoid available help. Great blog btw!….Have you been following Housewives of NY with Kelly Bensimon’s situation? Would love to hear your opinion on that…

  4. We have the right to accept or decline and medical services… Yet, to do it blindly begs to make you wonder if their son seizure and death could have been prevented if better controlled. Yet, I don’t have the fact about it so I can’t weigh in on that subject.

    As for JT’s not wanting “to create controversy”, I think that just goes with being a celebrity… I hate to be a skeptic, but in Hollywood even bad press is good press so my next quest is WHAT IS HE PUSHING? Does he have a new movie coming out soon? Or a Book deal?

  5. “When it comes to psychiatric medications, we’d do better to care about what scientists and researchers have to say than what a celebrity has to say.”

    But they themselves do not always agree. Some broad studies indicate that such medications used long-term and without much psychosocial intervention make the prospects for recovery poorer than doing without medications. Depends maybe on what you call a “researcher”.

  6. Not sure why it’s a story that a practicing scientologist opposes psychiatry and psychiatric meds. That’s like asking a Catholic if they’re opposed to birth control and then being upset when they say yes.

  7. If Travolta had believed in psychiatric meds., his son might still be alive. I can’t fathom a parent who would allow their child to suffer seizures after seizures for years- just because of his compulsive adherence to scientology. Does he and his wife realize that they may have contributed to their son’s death? Just goes to show that great actors aren’t always the brightest people. And I agree, with his status, he needs to keep his mouth shut. I understand his right to his opinion, but he needs to be less self centered and understand what he says may effect a lot of people. And not in a positive way.

  8. I also feel you can’t assume that Travolta has no experience with mental illness and thus has not right to have an opinion. Or maybe he knows someone who had a horrible experience with psych meds and doesn’t want to share that person’s name.

    Anyway, I have had experience taking psych meds and totally agree with Travolta. After 15 years, I am completely free of them and I feel a huge difference. So now, try stereotyping me.

    As far as this discouraging people from trying med or quitting them, I totally disagree. When I was on meds, negative opinions like Tom Cruise’s had no effect on me. I wish it has as perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted so much time needlessly. Another post.

    Finally, you don’t have to be a scientologist to oppose meds. Frankly, I am tired of that being used to discredit people who feel the way that I do.

  9. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and previously spent 4 weeks in a mental hospital, I think I’m allowed to comment on the debate. As much as I dislike Scientology’s manipulative ways and utter nonsense, on this point I agree. Been on more drugs I can remember, and all made me tired, constrained and, well, not me.

    I think they can help a lot of people, in particular unipolar depressives, but I’m one of those guys who tried to fit in. And eventually realised I’d just rather be me. Which is also why I don’t agree with the term “disorder”.

    And generally I think drug companies have a lot to answer for. Being diabetic, I’ve come to the conclusion this disease would have been cured long ago if it wasn’t for these companies’ vested interests….

  10. Can anyone tell me WHY Psychitrists commit suecide more than any other professional field?

  11. I feel that Kenneth is right on!
    Let it be, let it be, let it be!

  12. I think anon is spot on, why exactly is this a story? And aren’t things like pointing it out and asking everyone their opinion part of the reason that things like this end up being a controversy in the first place?

  13. I agree with those who have commented on the underlying story – the status that entertainers (including professional athletes) are ascribed just because of their celebrity. Why not quote the corner store clerk, or your hairdresser or accountant, about significant issues of the day? Their opinion is just as valuable, and learned, as that of a celebrity.

    We see celebrities often, as entertainers, as interviewees, as newspaper subjects. It is as if glamour blinds us, and we trust whatever they have to say.

    And, I am critical of PsychCentral for promulgating the apparent worth of celebrities on matters of mental health.

  14. I agree with what the last three posters have stated.

    And seriously, you don’t think that maybe, just maybe having a handicapped child, and then losing him either Travolta and his wife don’t have experience with mental health issues. At the least they probably suffered a prolonged grief period. Meds are not always the answer. There are alternatives.

    Just weigh Travolta’s opinions and life experience the way you would any other acquaintance. In otherwords, figure it out for yourself!

  15. I fought for decades/years with symptoms that I suspected but didn’t know pointed to a serious brain disorder (manic-depression), trying every method known (talk therapy, Yoga, long walks, running, dancing, painting, writing, taking classes, working hard, trying to be The Best, biofeedback, meditation, fervent prayer etc.) to “cure” it—and finally found a diagnosis & medications that actually treat it (there is no cure).
    Nobody (especially an actor, altho’ I am married to an actor/anthropologist) nobody can tell me this treatment is wrong!

  16. The choice whether or not to take meds rests with the patient, and is informed by the resources available to the patient (if, indeed, the patient is even a “patient,” that being a resource that isn’t available to everyone).

    The thing with celebrities is that they may have vastly more resources, so their decisions aren’t limited as most of ours may be. Being able to afford daily therapy, and probably more immediate access to therapists, even house calls, would definitely affect my decisions regarding meds. Sort of like having a personal trainer and chef would affect my physical fitness routine. They have additional pressures, too, and it’s not a question of deserving, but celebrities aren’t operating in exactly the same arena as most of us. There’s an economic feasibility factor we have to consider.

  17. Hey! Tom Walter. I don’t know where you get your STATS, But Psychiatrists DO NOT have the highest suicide rate. Look here: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/358562/jobs_with_high_suicide_rates.html?cat=5

    And do some research BEFORE you come here to SPEW your personal Opinion!

  18. A right is a political concept. Responsibility is a social concept. The greater your influence, the greater your responsibility not to be a moron.

  19. These are some REALLY thought-provoking comments everyone – thanks so much for sharing them!

    I think the bottom line boils down to this (celebrity involvement aside): Like Dr. Grohol pointed out in his write up on the original blog post, there’s no one size fits all. Psychiatric drugs can help OR hurt – it all depends on the patient and the drug(s) or other treatment(s).

  20. My opinion is that John’s son, Jet, had a mental condition, and John’s Scientology beliefs didn’t do much to help there, it would appear. My Dad’s family has a fairly high level of psychological sensitivity (a la Carl Jung) and it can be as much a gift as a curse, depending. I take Lexapro, and it takes just enough of the edge off the anxiety produced by the high sensitivity that I am able to USE my trait productively, as a gift. John may be from a different gene pool that doesn’t have an issue with “brain matters,” and so the fiction of Scientology is sufficient “medicine” for him.

  21. Scientologists (Travolta, etc.) have every right to shun medication and to express their opinion. Other religions pray over their children who have cancer or some other disease that allopathic medicine might remedy and these children either live or die naturally. Do you have a right to make these decisions for your children? The State seems to say, “no.” But, if Travolta/Cruise become diabetic and don’t want insulin, that is their right and “I’ll defend it to their death.” Unfortunately for all of us, the drug companies (legal)are fundamentally corporations focused on profits, not health. Is low seratonin the cause of depression? According to the drug companies, because they can raise seratonin, it is. Has anyone proven that? No. In your own experience–those of you who have been prescribed drugs to raise your seratonin levels, did the prescribing doctor test you seratonin level before prescribing? I’m a psychotherapist and I’ve never had even one patient whose seratonin was checked before they were given one of these SSRIs.
    Should Travolta have consulted a psychiatrist about his now dead son’s issues? Should he have been compelled to do this rather than spending his time giving his opinion about medication? It’s easy to argue either side of the issue. Hopefully, you won’t have to do this in your own life but be prepared in case it comes up?

  22. Norman, that has been exactly my issue over the years – I’ve had 4 diagnosed major depressive episodes in the last 16 years, and not ONCE was my blood even tested nor the question raised by psychiatrists. I’ve taken Prozac, Celexa, Effexor, Wellbutrin, and generally felt like a guinea pig. The increasing accompanying anxiety has been challenging as well, and made me curious about Bipolar II. However, diagnoses have proven relatively unhelpful for me; a good psychotherapist’s guidance works better and gives lasting results, regardless of the label I get to wear.

  23. I wounder if John and Tom would like to argue this point with a unmediated paranoid schizophrenic with a press pass?

  24. Medications can offer relief from a dark abyss that surrounds those who suffer from depression, can offer relief from a constant state of hyper anxiety for those suffering from OCD, panic disorder, and GAD, can offer relief from a feeling of paranoia and distrust. While there is always room for improvement we have “come a long way baby” in our ability to help people live lives that are enriched and enlivened because of medication. While opinions are fine, some people’s opinions hold more weight than others in the public forum and they need to have more wisdom about how they answer…unless they are trying to cause a stir.

  25. Celebrities are treated with such deference in our society. Many people are afraid to disagree with them because they want celebrities to have a good opinion of them. In that kind of atmosphere, it should not surprise us that celebrities think that they are knowledgeable on all sorts of subjects. Mr. Travolta has played the parts of a depressed person and of one accused of psychosis. No matter how much preparation an actor takes, they cannot truly know what it is like to have an illness unless they have actually had the illness. I have willfully spent twenty years of my career in the presence of persons with serious mental illnesses. My wife has a serious mental illness. I do not truly know what it is like to be them. I do know what it is like to be around people receiving the proper treatment and those who resist treatment or have not reached and optimal state of treatment.

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