WITH FRIENDS LIKE YOU
With Friends Like You….
Dr. Phil, I have something to say to you. I’ve been thinking about the most appropriate way to do that, because I am generally a polite person who cares greatly about the feelings of others. However, I decided to take a page or two from your own philosophy: “Let’s get real,“ and “I’m not the Hush –Puppies, pipe and ‘Let’s talk about your mother‘ kind of psychologist.”
While you are a Doctor of Philosophy in clinical psychology, I am only a licensed clinical professional Ccunselor. Compared to your credentials, mine don’t hold much water. You are a TV personality; I only watch TV. You have written many books; I just read them. Your Wikipedia biography is pages long; mine doesn’t exist. The facts are…you are “somebody,” and I am just me.
But I have one advantage over you. While you pay lip service to how well you understand the power of words, I live by that credo day in, day out. Words are powerful. Words heal. And words hurt. I know from firsthand experience how devastating, humiliating, and shaming words can be.
During one of your recent TV shows, you demonstrated how little you heed your own words. You said, “Insane people suck on rocks and bark at the moon.” I didn’t hear those words firsthand (I never watch your show), but I was told by several angry people what you said. Not believing they heard you correctly, I went online…and found those same words, and their context, on the Internet. Yes, Dr. Phil, those ill-spoken words now live forever in cyberspace.
I lost my daughter, Rebecca, to depression and bipolar disorder nine years ago. She did not “suck on rocks and bark at the moon,” nor was she a “crazy psycho” (other words you spoke on that same program). She was beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring. She was ashamed of her illness, and yet she lived with extraordinary grace and dignity. Rebecca helped many of her friends and colleagues to find the medical help they needed for their own struggles with mental illness. She was special and is greatly missed.
In her honor, our family began a nonprofit foundation—Rebecca’s Dream—to “promote awareness and compassionate understanding of depression and bipolar disorder as real diseases.” Rebecca’s Dream has helped thousands of individuals and their families to find the help and hope they need to live successful lives. And it is helping to fight the stigma of mental illness for the approximately 22.9 million Americans who live with it daily.
Your flippant words, Dr. Phil, have pushed back our mission. I understand that the audience at your show responded to your comment by…laughing. It seems to me that, for you, the entertainment factor of your “humor” outweighed the potential harm done to others. Or, perhaps you simply did not care. For all of us who are fighting the stigma against mental illness, we cannot calculate the short-term or long-term harm your words have caused. Friends don’t inflict insults and shame on their friends, nor do they bully or ridicule others who can’t fight back. With those words, Dr. Phil, you are not a friend to those living with mental health issues, nor would I ever send even my worst enemy to you for advice. Your words have sullied the memory of my daughter and brought humiliation to millions who are living their lives in the best possible way they can.
You are a big personality reaching far too many souls for me to count; I am a small personality reaching many…but not as many as I want to. But Rebecca’s Dream will forge ahead. We will keep finding ways to put into practice our mission and vision: to create a world of compassion and understanding of depression and bipolar disorder—and all mental illness—as real diseases. A world—and words—of compassion and understanding. Words, Dr. Phil. They matter.
Dare I ask what’s next on your agenda…?
Gail W. Cutler
President and Founder