Words Do Matter Dr. Phil and Your Words Promoted Stigma


An explanation about my disappearing Dr. Phil blog
I was horrified last week when I learned of a slur Dr. Phil made about individuals diagnosed with mental disorders. I wrote an Op Ed piece chastising him and an editor at USA TODAY agreed to publish it on the newspaper’s online edition. That meant a national audience would read why I felt Dr. Phil’s remark was insensitive and promoted stigma. On Monday, I posted my Op Ed here, only to have the editor call me within minutes and explain that the newspaper couldn’t put my Op Ed on line if I posted it here first. It had first rights. I hadn’t realize that I had violated our agreement and immediately removed my blog. The newspaper posted my Op Ed on Wednesday which means I am free to post it here now. That’s why my blog on Monday vanished and is now reappearing!

His remark that the insane ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon’ stigmatizes people.

     “You won’t believe what Dr. Phil just said on his show,” my wife, Patti, told me. “He said insane people ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon.'”

    “Dr. Phil said what?” I replied.

    “Insane people suck on rocks and bark at the moon. He also told a young woman who was stalking her boyfriend that she wasn’t some ‘crazy, psycho’ because of her obsession.'”

    I turned on our DVR when I got home from work to watch a Dr. Phil episode called Obsessed With Love, which focused on a 19-year old girl named Victoria.

     Within minutes, Dr. Phil mouthed exactly what Patti had quoted him as saying.  After underlining the word “insane” in a letter that Victoria had written to him seeking his help, he brushed off her worries by declaring that her obsession did not mean that she was “insane” because insane people “suck on rocks and bark at the moon.”

      When Paula Dean admitted using the N word, she drew public censure. Dr. Phil’s ignorant slur drew a big laugh from his audience.

     During the coming hour, Dr. Phil repeatedly assured his audience of millions that he understood both the importance and power of words. He scolded Victoria, telling her that she needed to stop playing word games and  “get real” about her obsession – a reference to his trademark moniker. 

    Let me “get real” with you, Dr. Phil.

    My adult son has a mental illness. He has been psychotic, delusional, and he has been arrested and booked into a jail. He has been shot by the police with a taser and repeatedly hospitalized. As a psychologist, I’m certain you are aware that 2.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, 5.7 million have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and another 14.8 million have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Those are just the ones who generally fall into the category of having a serious mental illness or, in your crude terminology, the “insane.”

     When you make these 22.9 million individuals the butt of your remarks, you are marginalizing them and their illnesses. Declaring that insane people “suck on rocks and bark at the moon” discourages them from seeking medical treatment for brain disorders that are not of their choosing and certainly not their fault. It makes them feel embarrassed and ashamed. Would you have said that individuals with Down Syndrome like to suck on rocks and bark at the moon? 

     In June, The White House held a mental health summit during which President Obama declared that our nation has to rid ourselves of the “embarrassment” associated with mental illnesses. “We’ve got to get rid of that stigma.”

    Dr. Phil, your careless words promoted embarrassment and stigma toward mentally ill Americans such as my son and others who often are abandoned on our streets delusional and homeless because our mental health care system has failed them and us.

   By the way, Dr. Phil, when one of those “insane” individuals gets treatment most recover. My son did and today he helps others who are “insane” by working as a “peer to peer” specialist much like a recovering alcoholic helps those fighting their own alcohol addiction.

     He’s a hero, not someone who sucks on rocks and barks at the moon. 

Dr. Phil’s quote can be found at 20:57 into the program http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDVe84EnbgM

So far, he has made no effort to apologize.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.