Topsy Turvy - the Death of Jeret Peterson

We overrate our most popular mental health therapies' effectiveness

Posted Jul 27, 2011


Once again, we see how puny our leading therapies are (assuming the well-off and the well-known have access to the best we have to offer).  Hard on the death of Amy Winehouse -- fresh out of rehab -- we have the suicide of American Olympic skier Jeret Peterson, at the age of 29.

Peterson had both a troubled background, and he was in a high risk sport, enough to convict him to a life of emotional trouble, if you believe some theories.

I oppose those theories.

But Jeret had certainly been exposed to them.

When he was 5, his sister was killed by a drunken driver. In 2003, he disclosed that he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. In 2005, a friend committed suicide in front of him.

I may be misunderstanding best-selling addiction theorist Gabor Mate -- whom I know many people respect, even worship -- but I believe he indicates such experiences set a person reeling through life, often leading to addiction and much else.

Sent home by American authorities after a drunken escapade following his appearance at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Jeret quit drinking.  In a 2008 interview, Peterson said: "I had to (quit). I was headed down the wrong path and I just needed to kind of pull back the reins and say, 'What am I doing with my life?' Am I going to look back in 20 years and be proud? At that point, my answer was no."

Prior to his suicide, Peterson got into another drunken altercation and was also cited for drunk driving.

You can see him feeling he had betrayed himself and others.

But all of this was not due to his lack of treatment -- he had been in counseling for depression for a long time, as he revealed in the same interview where he discussed abstaining from alcohol.

How many times have we been told that people -- men in particular -- are hurt by their inability to own up to their depressed feelings, and that acknowledging these could save them?

It didn't help Jeret.

We love to pat ourselves on the back in the mental health professions -- "If only people turned to us for help, they'd be fine," we so often intone.

After Amy Winehouse's death, comedian Russell Brand wrote this letter, invariably referred to as moving:

When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they've had enough, that they're ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it's too late, she's gone.

But what does Brand's message say about Winehouse's only recently having completed substance treatment?  Hadn't she made the "really wanting to change" call, and quite recently?

Unfortunately, those aren't two mutually exclusive phone calls, Russell -- the "I want help and am entering treatment" call and the "we are sorry to inform you" one.  Judging from recent history, they co-occur all the time.