Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life, said in a 2012 interview (above) that he takes antidepressants and expects to take them for the rest of his life.

I don’t have any current information, but my guess is that this is still true.

His daughter Mikhaila, who was 20 back then, also said she takes antidepressants.  Peterson believes he is subject to a genetic flaw that his grandfather and father also had.

This runs counter to the argument of British journalist Johann Hari, whose new book, Lost Connections, was reviewed by me in my previous post.  Hari said people are depressed not because things are wrong in their brains, but because things are wrong in their lives, which is often due to things that are wrong with society in general.

All three generations of Peterson appeared to have everything that makes life living—meaningful work, friends, loving marriages, children and the respect of their communities.

Yet Jordan Peterson’s grandfather and father went to pieces in middle age, and Peterson himself thinks that he might have suffered the same fate if antidepressants hadn’t been available.

Mikhaila, the daughter, did go through a lot of suffering.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from a young age and had to have hip and ankle replacements.  But she didn’t suffer alone.  She had the support of parents and friends.

So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.

Hari reported on clinical studies comparing patients who’ve been given antidepressants with patients who’ve been given placebos and patients who’ve been given nothing.

They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.

That, of course, leaves a remaining 25 percent who actually were helped.  Hari said nobody understands how this works, because the effects of the various antidepressants are widely different.  Some increase serotonin, some decrease it, some increase or decrease dopamine and other biochemicals.  Also, many of them have bad side effects.

Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.   If you are depressed because you are unemployed, divorced or lonely, antidepressants won’t fix you, he said; you need to look for a job, a new mate and new friends.

My own guess is that Peterson and his forebears may have been depressed partly because of burnout.   Grandfather Peterson, a blacksmith, and father Peterson, a school teachers, lived in Fairview, a small town in a remote part of northern Alberta.  This was a harsh environment to begin with, and they were community leaders who took on multiple responsibilities.

Jordan Peterson himself loaded himself up with more responsibilities than many people, myself included, could have borne.  He had his teaching job, his clinical practice and his scholarly work, plus dealing with the continuing and seemingly unending crisis of his daughters’ illness.

It wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Peterson men cracked under the strains.  But who knows?  Human life is a mystery.

The video above is from a 2017 lecture, the one below is from 2009.  Jordan Peterson looks younger and more fit in the more recent video than he does in older video.   His daughter, Mikhaila wrote on her blog that this is due to his low-carbohydrate diet. which recently switched to an all-meat diet.   Click on the links for details.

Jordan Peterson and Johann Hari are very different, both in temperament and in political attitudes.  One says we need to change ourselves.  The other says we need to change the conditions in which we live.  I see these views as complementary, not contradictory.  It’s Yin (Hari) and Yang (Peterson).


In Search of Utopia for Lobsters Like Us by Oliver Waters for Quilette.

The Jordan Peterson Meat-Only Diet by James Hamblin for The Atlantic.  [Added 8/29/2018]

Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health by Benjamin David Steele for Marmalade.  [Added 5/1/2019]

Jordan Peterson’s year of ‘absolute hell’: Professor forced to retire from public life because of addiction by Joseph Brean for National Post.  [Added 2/10/2020]  He is recovering in Russia from addiction brought on by tranquilizers overly prescribed by North American doctors, his family says.  His medications reportedly brought him to the brink of death.

‘Things are not good right now’: Jordan Peterson battling COVID-19 by Tyler Dawson for National Post.  [Added 8/18/2020]

Jordan Peterson is back in Toronto and back at work [Added 10/22/2020]

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life—A Review by Hannah Gal for Quillette [Added 4/5/2021]

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8 Responses to “Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants”

  1. peteybee Says:

    Just based on a few youtube clips… his philosophy, his style of cutting through the niceties and taking the brutally direct route in analyzing society and human development and gender relations and the stuff he’s become famous for; the whole “it’s a cruel world” lecture; samsara, dukkha; being a psychologist and absorbing all his clients’ woes…

    It’s interesting to think of his presentation as a response to being overwhelmed by the limitless frustration of humanity, both near and far.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julius Says:

    It’s kind of ironic that Peterson takes antidepressants. Because he himself is another person who claims that if you are depressed, you can solve that problem by having responsibilities. Also, none of his 12 “Rules” involves taking some time to consider the possibility that you might need a psychiatrist. “Nope, if you have depression problems, just follow my advice and you’ll be fine! But my own advice won’t work for me…”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    “So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.”

    I’d take a larger view. There are many forms of lost connections. All major industrial societies have seen breakdown of community and family.

    There has also been widespread increase of inequality that has worsened over the generations. If you want to know why that matters so much, read Keith Payne (The Broken Ladder), Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (The Spirit Level, The Inner Level), and James Gilligan (Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others, Preventing Violence).

    It’s not only about the personal connections or lack thereof. Maybe as if not more important is what is going on in the community and larger society. Also, consider that not many generations ago people regularly lived near extended family. My mother, still alive, grew up next to her grandmother and uncle and also with cousins living on the same street, not to mention numerous other family members within short driving distance.

    So, even people with strong nuclear families are more isolated than in the past. And we aren’t talking about that far in the past either.

    “They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.”

    That fits my own experience. Antidepressants never seemed to do much good for me. And I was the type of person they should’ve helped, if they were going to do so. I was more isolated at the time. But I was dealing with other issues as well such as poverty, which often goes hand in hand with mental health issues. The deeper problem is that poverty, isolation, etc are systemic problems to the entire society.

    “I see these views as complementary, not contradictory.

    I agree. I’ve applied both approaches to my own mental health, including depression. These days I spend more time with friends and family. Having people around that one trust does make one feel less insecure and anxious. But that alone wasn’t enough to help with my depression.

    Like Peterson, I’ve been on a low-carb diet that transitioned to a ketogenic diet and I’ve been most recently experimenting with a carnivore diet. I’ll probably go back to some variation of a low-carb diet after a while, but I’m trying to alter a lifetime of damage from a standard American diet of processed foods high in carbs and hydrogenated vegetable oil. From childhood and well into my 30s, I was a junk food junky and sugar addict.

    Changing my diet has made a big difference. My mood has improved, as has my cravings, energy, and mental focus. There is a lot of scientific research behind why this works.


  4. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    I’d add a broader level of disconnection, far beyond only being disconnected from other people: extended family, neighbors, etc. Most Americans in particular and Westerners in general are disconnected from a sense of a home community, disconnected from nature, disconnected from farming and gardening, disconnected from hunting and gathering.

    People living in varying degrees of isolation drive in their self-contained vehicles from house to work to store, never really experiencing the world around them nor where the products they buy come from or who made them. And the work most people do has no greater meaning to it other than a paycheck.

    About nature, there is some fascinating research on the powerful impact nature has on us. A great book about this is The Secret Life of Your Microbiome by Alan C. Logan and Susan L. Prescott. Even having trees on your street affects your psychological and physical health.


  5. Avi Says:

    Itbis extremely wrong to say thay Peterson advocates for a mere medicinal therapy for depression while disregarding changing the patient’s life. On the contrary. If you’d spent even slightly more time in Peterson’s writings and/or videos you’d quiclly run into his call to better oneself in very deep ways. He also saysbthat antidepressants help. How did you get that he blames it all on biology from that?


    • philebersole Says:

      Of course you are right about Peterson’s overall philosophy, which I have discussed in other posts (which you can read, if you are interested, by clicking on the “related” links or the “Jordan Peterson” tag.)

      I came across the top video after posting favorable reviews of Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and a book entitled Lost Connections by a science journalist named Johann Hari, who opposed antidepressant drugs and said what people really need is social support networks . I thought of Peterson and Hari as complementary.

      I was interested that Peterson, who preaches self-reliance, himself needed psychiatric drugs. That’s why I linked to videos in which he explains his views on antidepressants and clinical depression. In the third video, Peterson made it clear that drugs are a last resort, not a first resort.

      I do not claim that his need for antidepressants invalidates 12 Rules for Life, which I have read and reviewed, and did not write this post in order to belittle him. I am sorry that I did not make this clear.


  6. James Says:

    “Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.”

    If anyone is depressed for “no apparent reason”, that indicates a major failure of self-observation on that person’s part.

    I’ve been depressed for the majority of my life, for various reasons, but I’ve always known exactly what they were.

    I agree with JP about 90% of the time, but I am opposed to his view on antidepressants. I believe SSRI’s and SNRI’s are poison.

    There are studies that indicate that things like staring at the sun with one’s eyes closed or exercising are far more effective at treating “unknown-cause depression” than any antidepressant.

    Ketamine, LSD and psilocybin are also far more effective.


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