Last month, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson checked into rehab to battle an addiction to clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication. According to his daughter, Mikhaila Peterson, he had begun taking clonazepam at the beginning of the year primarily to deal with stress from his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Following his wife’s “miraculous” recovery over the summer, Peterson had attempted to quit the drug cold turkey. Dangerous withdrawal symptoms prevented his efforts. He voluntarily entered rehab to wean himself off safely and under medical supervision.

The news of rehab was met with an overflow of prayers and well-wishes from supporters but also received backlash from critics. The harsh denunciation seems to be centered on the idea that Jordan Peterson is hypocrite for being a self-help guide who became addicted to drugs. It could be argued that the negative remarks are coming from a place of karmic justice from those who view him as politically controversial, but have nevertheless perpetuated stigmatizing beliefs surrounding mental health.

The idea that a mental health professional be deemed “hypocritical” for seeking help outside of his own clinical knowledge is grossly inappropriate. Peterson is still a human being who is vulnerable to unbearable emotional pain. It is misguided to self-righteously judge how he responds to the inevitable tragedies of life, particularly as they pertain to his own family. Furthermore, seeking proper treatment when you know it is necessary is a sign of great strength and courage.

This isn’t the only criticism Peterson is currently facing, however. Earlier this month, a clip from his recent interview with Rex Murphy went viral. In the video, Peterson tears up over Twitter mobs and online bullying. He admitted that he no longer has access to his account password as he undergoes other psychological healing. Trolls immediately took to Twitter and other forms of social media to taunt him, calling his emotional reaction “weak.”

These remarks are a disservice to people struggling with mental illness, particularly men who are already affected by “anti-patriarchy” culture and facing existential confusion. The idea that a man showing emotion makes him weak is dangerously inaccurate. It is also antithetical to the belief in “toxic masculinity” that many of these critics espouse. Men are just as predisposed to pain as women. It is imperative that they not be discouraged from emotional release. Bottling up emotions will only result in unhealthy, if not dangerous outlets when they inevitably overflow.

Furthermore, discouraging people with mental illnesses from receiving treatment reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health. Depression is physiologically damaging. In fact, it carries with it a high suicide rate. It is unwise to underestimate the value of medical intervention, particularly if your life is in order and you can’t explain why you might be depressed. Perhaps certain types of medication are highly addictive and thus over-prescribed, but that does not mean the right dire circumstances can’t sometimes render them necessary. And while it is true that anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications don’t work for everyone, we cannot attack the people who find them beneficial. Just as with physical illnesses, we must do what is necessary for ourselves to get better.

It is vital that we create a culture that urges discussion about mental health and equips people with the resources to receive the help they need, whatever that might look like. As Jordan Peterson himself has said, people are more likely to give their pets prescribed medication than to take their own prescriptions, as they might not find themselves worthy of care or have too much pride to try. If more people were encouraged to treat themselves as if they were someone they were responsible for helping, perhaps we could begin to tackle the mental health crises and suicide epidemic we are facing. Leave Jordan Peterson alone, or attack him at society’s peril.

Jennifer S
CONTRIBUTOR