On Armchair Psychiatrists | Sarah Stook

‘He’s dangerous-he’s clearly mentally ill! He’s got some kind of narcissistic disorder, or delusional behaviour. A man like that cannot be in the White House!”


Even before Donald Trump took his inaugural oath, the armchair psychiatrists were out in force to create an explanation for the wild ways of the Republican. Whether it was a criticism of his policy on Mexican and Muslim migrants, or the scandalous ‘grab em by the pussy’ tape, the critics rushed to diagnose a man they’d sat down face to face with, let alone actually met for a brief second. It seems, to them, that no mentally sound person could say or do such things. From fellow politicians to psychiatrists and keyboard warriors, several mental illness diagnoses are bounded around like a tennis ball, thrown back and forth in an echo chamber. These people search for anything- from a particular trait of his to a throw-away comment from the campaign trail- to type into their laptop on a self-diagnosis website.

What they fail to see, however, is the danger of their actions.

Firstly, we have the actual psychiatrists and psychologists, trained in mental disorders and spotting them. In a recent breach of absolute protocol, a group of Yale psychologists- some of the brightest minds in the country, and workers in one of the world’s best universities, announced that it was their ‘duty’ to warn the public of ‘Donald Trump’s dangerous mental illness.’ Whilst they were open about this unusual action, the group defended themselves, believing it was in the public’s best interest to know about the inner mind of the man who is probably the most powerful in the world.

Whilst we cannot deny that these experts will know a lot about their field, it is inarguable that this is a clear breach of ethics. Without sitting down in front of him and assessing any symptoms, they cannot know for certain if Trump is one of the millions of Americans who suffer from horror that is mental illness. Furthermore, if one looks at the ethics of the American Psychiatry Association, they will see that what these Yale experts did was against their own principles. Section 7.3 of their code of ethics:

‘On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.’

For those aware of the history of this, they will know that this 1973 is often called the ‘Goldwater rule.’ In the 1964 election, a US magazine called Fact, published a poll of over 1,000 psychiatrists, who asserted that candidate Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be President. Though other factors led to him losing to incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, many argue that this had an effect on him losing, especially in a time when mental illness was not properly understood. Goldwater sued- and won- gaining thousands of dollars in compensation, but losing his chance to be the 37th President. From this, the American Psychiatry Association gained a new rule.

Those Yale professionals promised that they used the Goldwater rule during their discussion, but that does not seem to be the case when they announced their findings to the public. Other practitioners condemned them, but they did not care. The accusation of liberal bias in academia also makes this all the more troubling. With a 2014 survey finding that 60% of college professors describe themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘left wing,’ with the number being higher in Ivy League schools, it creates a dangerous precedent- that those on the losing side will turn to offensive and dangerous facts to offset their loss, not understanding that their candidate may not have been the best person. For a start, their logic is flawed- if Trump steps down, it won’t be Hillary who becomes President, and it’ll be Mike Pence, more of an enemy to liberal values such as LGBT rights than his running mate. Obviously, this hasn’t been well thought out.

Then there’s the obvious impact on the mentally ill.

It’s thought that one quarter of Americans have or will suffer from a mental illness, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Around the world, there are millions more. Often, celebrities and other figures in the spotlight will admit any battles they have had, bravely sharing their story and allowing others to take solace in the fact that their favourite singers and actors suffer like they do. Still, the stigma attached to mental illness is a sticky one.

By diagnosing Trump, victims of mental health issues will believe that because they have what they have, they are like him. For every psychiatrist that misdiagnoses him whenever he says something ‘bad,’ a victim will feel more concerned. Whilst many have come forward and sought help- even with limited resources- many have stayed in the shadows, scared to admit they have something wrong with them. Mental illness is a lot better understood than in 1964, but we still have a long way to go. These illnesses are silent and invisible, and the wrong views that are attached to them (such as sufferers making it up or it not being as serious as any physical disorders), and some may fear that they will be labelled the same was as Trump.

Mental illness can manifest itself into negative actions, sometimes even crime in the cases of several psychosis and schizophrenia amongst others, but it does NOT make people who suffer it bad people. Though Trump has his critics, those who criticise his ideology more than his personality will not regard him as a bad person, nor will his legion of supporters. Though the psychologists may not be purposefully causing trouble for sufferers, and will be the ones who want to help them, it is still a dangerous game to play. It is even more dangerous for the armchair psychiatrists, Americans, cyber warriors or anyone inbetween.

Professionals or people, these people need to stop their false diagnosis of the President. Whether they like him or not, the repercussions of it are catastrophic to both psychiatric ethics and the wellbeing of millions of mentally ill people.

It needs to end.

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