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How Tom Cruise Encouraged Me to Speak Up About Mental Illness

Since Tom Cruise publicly denounced actress Brooke Shields’ decision to treat postpartum depression with medication almost 10 years ago, his words have resonated in my head. “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do,” he told Matt Lauer. “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance.”

I’ve watched Mr. Cruise’s interview about his take on mental illness half a dozen times, each time finding myself more dumbfounded. I wasn’t angry at him for expressing such an opinion. That’s the beauty of the First Amendment. I was discouraged by his tone, demeanor and lack of willingness to discuss mental illness. But what really struck a chord with me was knowing that thousands and thousands of people were watching this interview – many being Tom Cruise fans who value, trust and believe everything the celebrity says. Most importantly, many of whom could be silently living with a mental illness themselves. Now after this interview, they could be losing belief in psychiatry and treatment options.

But Mr. Cruise made a valid point when he stated that people should do their “homework” on psychiatry. They certainly should before drawing their own conclusion. And so I did. I started writing down my own feelings, research, experiences and opinions on psychiatry. (After all, if Mr. Cruise could do it, then so can anyone!) I’ve put great effort into researching and understanding its origin, various types of treatment, effects of genetic makeup and most importantly, the views that others have.

For me, understanding the existence of chemical imbalances has been a big source of personal comfort. While treatment programs come in all different shapes and sizes, the outpatient program I was in was not tailored to one specific type of mental illness. My doctors did warned there would be people in my program who were from different backgrounds, battling issues unlike my own.

I entered the program thinking I only wanted to talk to people who had depression like myself. I was narrow-minded and didn’t think I could learn from people who were going through different experiences. But I thought of Tom Cruise and realized how listening to others, rather than constantly speaking, can enlighten your personal inner soul. I learned people with mental illness come in all different shapes and sizes, and that one person’s unique experience can relate to someone else’s, even if they have completely different issues.

If anything, I owe Mr. Cruise a big “thank you” for giving me the courage to voice my own opinion about mental illness. Not only that, but for reiterating the value of listening to others’ experiences and opinions. Being biased doesn’t help to inspire or teach anything.

Although it took several years to gather my thoughts into complete sentences, it helped me to understand myself, but most importantly it taught me the importance of being tolerant towards others’ decisions, experiences and views. The 2005 Tom Cruise interview magnified the necessity for listening to one another, because without this, how can we learn to understand and respect one another? So Mr. Cruise, thank you for the inspiration to speak up, but most importantly, to listen first.