Dear Dr. Phil,
Maybe you remember, we've been in touch a few times before. Back in 2013, I shared some thoughts with you about the use of language around mental health . My point was simply that the widespread and unconscious use of discriminatory language to describe people with brain health challenges has blurred our minds, hearts and souls. People were very interested in that conversation along with the two open letters that I wrote you.
My best guess is that these were popular because many of us, or our loved ones, feel completely dismissed by that kind of language. We also know first-hand that choosing our words carefully is an important part of taking mental health issues out of the shadows and can open hearts and save lives.
Well, as you may have guessed, I have some more thoughts to share with you, this time about your recent interview with Nick Gordon. Watching the show, I could see that your intentions are, as always, to be helpful. But I can't help wondering where that heart-centered awareness goes when you step into a semi therapeutic role with someone who is clearly in distress on national TV?
Knowing what you know -- what we all increasingly understand -- about how trauma and stress affect the wiring in our brains, I have to ask. Why did you choose to share such a moment of vulnerability for public consumption? Where was your duty of care for Nick Gordon? Would you ever talk about the intimate details of a cancer patients' treatment on television in this manner? Would you expose them to the world, sick and vomiting from a recent chemo treatment? Or perhaps someone in the throes of cardiac arrest? Would a physical crisis like this be something to share with a daytime TV audience?
I doubt you would, so I wonder why you would do that to someone reeling from the brain effects of trauma, addiction and grief. And I wonder why you would choose to expose Nick Gordon's coping mechanisms and symptoms rather than follow your medical ethics and get him immediate care?
Recently, I was on a plane where an elderly woman died mid-flight. A call came over the intercom for any emergency or health personnel to come forward. As you can imagine, that caused great concern among the passengers, but it soon quieted down. I remember thinking, "oh, it must be over, she must be okay."
But as I pieced the story together later, I realized that the woman must have died immediately. The flight attendants and pilots didn't make any announcements that would stir a buzz of anxiety or speculation. They just calmly and quietly tended to the woman's daughter, who was traveling with her and who was so suddenly and publicly grief-stricken. No one knew what had happened until we landed, when police came on board.
They did not exploit the situation or share details with everyone. The professionals on that flight held a sacred and peaceful space in a moment of life and death. They retained as much privacy as possible for the affected people, even in a shared public space. They treated everyone involved -- and that included the other passengers, who were the unintended "audience" for this event -- with dignity.
Instead of choosing to take immediate steps to provide care for a person in a crisis, you chose, as Kevin Fallon wrote in The Daily Beast, to make Nick Gordon "the latest victim of our culture's tendency to turn humans into spectacles at the height of their vulnerability."
We know you want to educate and inform, and improve people's lives. But aren't there moments when the need to entertain should take a back seat to the responsibility for healing care? Dr. Phil, with your popular, high-profile platform, I know you have the power to show us the way. I hope you will use that power to lead.
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