Tom Cruise’s erratic behavior on his recent worldwide publicity tour has been fodder for gossip columnists and late-night talk-show hosts for weeks, but now the movie star’s comments on mental-health issues last week are attracting serious criticism from members of Congress.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show to promote his upcoming movie “War of the Worlds,” Cruise called psychiatry “a pseudoscience” and dismissed the effectiveness of antidepressants.
The Congressional Mental Health Caucus this week criticized his remarks, saying that the celebrity has reinforced negative perceptions.
“It is unfortunate that Tom Cruise has sought to use his celebrity to once again negatively reinforce the unfortunate stigma associated with mental illness,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), co-chair of the caucus. “Mr. Cruise is correct in saying that some of the drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders can be abused, but these same drugs have been beneficial to countless numbers of people who can now focus on their work in school or on the job.”
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a psychologist and the other co-chair of the caucus, took issue with Cruise’s apparent belief that attitude adjustment alone can overcome mental illness.
“If this was the case, mental illnesses would have been cured during the time of the Salem witch trials,” Murphy remarked.
“Throughout history, various forms of attitude adjustment including torture, incarceration, relaxation techniques, bloodletting, ice water immersion, and hypnosis have been used to try to cure mental diseases and none have worked,” he continued. “By promoting such a theory, Cruise is providing a false hope that deters people from getting the help they need.”
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who has long pushed for legislation to enhance mental-health services, labeled Cruise’s comments “irresponsible and counterproductive.” Kennedy said it was wrong to denigrate effective treatments at a time when “10 kids die every day from suicide as a result of untreated mental illnesses” and “when our businesses lose $31 billion per year in productivity as a result of depression alone.”
Mental-health groups also have admonished Cruise. The American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) issued a joint statement last week: “Mental illnesses are real medical conditions that affect millions of Americans. … It is irresponsible for Mr. Cruise to use his movie publicity tour to promote his own ideological views and deter people with mental illness from getting the care they need.”
Mental-health experts said that the statements by Cruise, because of his immense popularity, could lead some people to stop taking their prescribed antidepressants. Michael Faenza, president and CEO of the NMHA, said Cruise’s comments could even prevent some people from seeking help in the first place.
The pharmaceutical industry is criticizing Cruise as well. Ken Johnson, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, “Actors should act, and highly skilled psychiatrists should treat patients. Cruise’s pronouncements fly in the face of science and effective treatment of a growing number of Americans who depend on medicines to lead normal, productive lives.”
Cruise’s agent, Creative Artists Agency, referred a request for a response to the actor’s publicist, who did not comment by press time.
Several members of Congress have dealt directly with tragedies related to mental illnesses. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) have lost family members to suicide, the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.
Cruise has been active in politics, contributing thousands of dollars over the past decade to Democrats, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and John Kerry (Mass.).
Cruise’s remarks on the “Today” show, which were made in a testy exchange with host Matt Lauer, was the latest in a series of unusual publicity appearances.
In contrast to his interview with Lauer, Cruise was jovial while appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” last week — even when Letterman indirectly asked Cruise about his earlier interview with Oprah Winfrey, where Cruise jumped up and down to describe his feelings for his fiancée, Katie Holmes.