Mental health professionals should not remotely diagnose Trump

Mental health professionals should not remotely diagnose Trump

In 1964, After 1,189 Psychiatrists publicly claimed Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president, the American Psychiatric Association created the “Goldwater Rule”: You can’t give a diagnosis without a therapy session. However, the APA admits psychiatrists can legally get around the rule by “discussing” public figures instead of “diagnosing” them, and they have.

FiveThirthyEight reported that on August 8th, 2017, a group of psychiatrists led by Dr. John Gartner of Johns Hopkins have started a movement called “Duty to Warn”, who argue they have a duty to the American people to alert them that President Trump is mentally unfit for his job. “Duty to Warn” launched a petition in 2017, recently reaching 60,000 signatures, that proclaims “We...believe in our professional judgment Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable“ to be president, and urge the usage of the 25th amendment to remove him.” 

The goal is enchanting, but petition signees have not identified a clear condition other than occasionally suggesting Narcissism, which is, let’s face it, actually a common feature of US presidents. The petition’s vague nature risks reinvigorating mental health stigma for the convenient possibility of replacing Trump, lowering us to his moral plane. 

For those who dislike President Trump, it is tempting to instinctively accept the position of Duty to Warn as valid. However, there are several problems with Duty to Warn both logistically and medically. First, “Duty to Warn’s” medical consensus is a façade. Petition co-signers are told to comment their qualifications. 780 people commented in August. Only 26 mentioned any degrees or licenses. Most simply called Trump “mentally ill”. 

All Judith Langreder, Master’s Degree recipient, said was that “Donald Trump is clearly unfit to be Presiddbt due to mental illness...and must be removed”. While she chose an interesting spelling of President, her and others only spurred more empty labeling. Commenter Leah Robinson claimed, “I don't need to be a mental health professional to know...he is seriously mentally ill”. 

Duty to Warn does have several psychiatrists with impressive credentials which ostensibly adds to their credibility. But this isn’t the first time their leader (Dr. Gartner) has taken a medical stance on a public figure. He published a book psychoanalyzing Bill Clinton in 2008. He is breaking the Goldwater Rule for money, not morality. Others who have joined don’t want to see Trump potentially mar America’s future, which is a legitimate concern. Regardless, treating his alleged mental illness is not the concern. They don’t want Trump to get help; they want him to get out. 

Even from a purely medical standpoint, “Duty to Warn” is taking an inherently bigoted stance. If their basis for determining Trump’s mental illness is his actions and they deem those actions to be “bad”, then they are suggesting that people who are mentally ill are morally deficient in some way. A 2014 Study from the University Texas found the mentally ill are actually less likely to be violent, so clearly the relationship they base their conclusion on is false. 

Additionally, “Duty to Warn” could set a very damaging precedent for employment. If the President of the United States is forced out because of mental illness, many people could be let go under the same reasoning.  “Duty to Warn” wants to codify the stigma that mentally ill people are not cognitively competent, even though many great leaders from JFK to MLK have reportedly toiled and triumphed in spite of mental illness. In short, “Duty to Warn” is practicing problematic medicine. 

Some speculate that the 2016 election pushed society closer towards a “post-fact” world. In reality, if we cannot objectively identify what a fact is, like whether or not Trump is actually mentally ill through an actual therapy-based diagnosis, we are already there. It’s easy to point out the fallacious and bigoted thinking of the other side. Let’s make sure we look in the mirror first. 

Paul Bousquet is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly. 

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