Jim Carrey is a decent actor and a great comedian. My favorite role of his was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with The Truman Show as a close second. And of course, only Carrey could have pulled off certain roles, like The Mask.
And yet, I really don’t care to hear his opinions about medicine and science. The obvious point is that Carrey is famous for being a funny man, this fame gives him an audience, but it does not give him the expertise or background to formulate a meaningful opinion about complex scientific questions.
Of course, this kind of statement requires immediate clarification. Everyone is indeed entitled to their own opinion. Carrey has the right to have an opinion on any topic he desires. He can even express that opinion to his family and friends. Everyone also has the right to make their own medical decisions. Opinions on values and aesthetics are all relative, so no one can claim that theirs are superior to others.
But it is an entirely different situation to express your opinion in public to a wide audience on a scientific question of fact. Within science, some ideas are better than others, and some opinions are better than others. The public is best served by being exposed to the opinions of leading experts and the consensus of the scientific community – not comic actors.
This then leads to the question of responsibility. Carrey is being irresponsible, in my opinion, for spouting off on medical questions to the public. It is the result of supreme arrogance – he thinks he knows better than the consensus opinion of medical experts. I wonder where he thinks his superior insight and knowledge comes from. He does give us a clue – he seems to think that doctors are all trained monkeys who cannot think for themselves or are compromised by “Big Pharma” money. But this opinion is really just more arrogance on his part.
You might think what set off my little tirade against the hubris of famous idiots was Carrey’s infamous embrace of anti-vaccine quackery. It is true, he has allowed himself to be a hapless buffoon of the mercury militia. Not content to be a public menace by increasing the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases, Carrey also thinks he can pontificate about mental health as well.
Carrey has informed that esteemed journal of medical science, People magazine, that:
“I think the medical establishment we’re presented with, it’s a system,” said the comedian. “They’re taught a certain thing. There is drug company money that goes into the educational system. I’m saying you have to look outside that, and consider the other possibilities for people.”
Right, so ignore your physician. What does he know? Listen to Dr. Carrey. He believes he cured his own depression with vitamins. He is even happy to agree with Tom Cruise on that point.
What about taking anti-depressants:
“I think Prozac and things like that are very valuable to people for short periods of time,” he said on the show. “But I believe if you’re on them for an extended period of time, you never get to the problem.”
Can you please give us some peer-reviewed references on which you based your opinion, Dr. Carrey. Or is this just fashionable, knee-jerk, anti-drug bias?
The hidden premise in Carrey’s statement is a false choice – medication or therapy to “get to the problem.” In reality the current medical wisdom is that the most effective treatment is a combination of both. In fact, in many cases the very purpose of antidepressant medication is to lift the pall of depression so that the patient can engage in meaningful therapy to deal with their cognitive issues.
Exercise and good nutrition also help, and I recommend them all the time. But like any medical question, there is a great deal of complexity in such questions. Some people have a chronic pathological depression. There is good reason to think that such depressions are biological at their base, and they require biological treatments like anti-depressants. Other people have situational depression, which is likely to be short term. A variety of more conservative approaches, or short term medical treatment, can be effective.
Many people with depression have either primary (meaning they cause the depression) or secondary (meaning they result from the depression, but then reinforce it) cognitive and behavior factors in their depression. These seem to respond best to cognitive behavioral therapy – but that is a complex controversy in and of itself. Whether or not talk therapy of some kind can succeed on its own, or requires short or long term medication, is a complex decision.
There may also be medical factors playing a role, again either primary (the ultimate cause) or co-morbid (not causing the depression but making it worse). Sometimes the depression is caused by a medical condition, like thyroid disease. Often it may be caused by sleep deprivation, which itself has its own cause.
And I am just scratching the surface of this topic. As always, I must point out that there are good and bad clinicians out there. And some of the bad ones can be truly terrible. What I am referring to is the generally accepted standard of care. It is also what I encounter most often in my experience – thoughtful clinicians who understand the evidence and the controversies, not the trained monkeys of Carrey’s self-serving fantasy.
To further clarify and anticipate the likely criticism – I am not advocating the paternalism of old where patients just did what their doctors told them. We live in a cooperative model of health care, where everyone is entitled to informed consent. But there is a healthy balance between informed consent and utilizing the expertise of the medical community.
Carrey’s hubris is not in having an opinion – it’s in thinking that because he is famous anyone should care what his opinion on a medical question is. It is in thinking that he knows better than those who have trained for years or decades in a complex and deep medical literature and practice. It is in the casual assumption of moral superiority (an admittedly common failing).
Perhaps more importantly, Carrey’s arrogance is simply part of a broader cultural trend. A proper respect for expertise has been partly sacrificed on the altar of egalitarianism. It still lingers, but in the public arena anti-establishment, sometimes post-modern, and irrationally egalitarian ideals hold sway.
This is why I felt I had to go to great pains in this article to explain what years ago was simply taken for granted – the nature and value of expertise.