Donald Trump has said some downright abhorrent things in this election season. He’s made xenophobic remarks against multiple communities. He insulted the family of a war hero. He’s even alienated babies.
But none of these incidents indicate, necessarily, that he has a mental illness.
Nevertheless, headlines have run amuck with such claims. “Is Donald Trump OK?” asks the Toronto Star. “Trump Shows Signs Of Mental Illness By Inventing Imaginary Sanders Supporters Who Support Him” claims Politicus USA. “Donald Trump: Sociopath?” muses The Atlantic. These “diagnoses” are doing more harm than good.
Last week, the American Psychiatric Association issued a warning to experts to refrain from diagnosing the GOP presidential nominee from afar. Not only is it wrong to speculate either way, but such claims can actually damage individuals with a mental health disorder by perpetuating negative stereotypes.
“The unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible,” APA president Maria A. Oquendo said in a statement.
The history of ‘diagnosing’ politicians
The request for psychiatrists to refrain from analyzing candidates’ mental health in the media isn’t a new one. The APA’s guideline, commonly known as the “Goldwater Rule,” has been in place since the 1970s, when the pattern first emerged with presidential contender Barry Goldwater.
According to the APA, Fact magazine published a survey on Goldwater’s mental state during the 1964 election that included answers from more than 12,000 psychologists on whether they thought he was “psychologically fit” to hold office. Some doctors even went as far as offering an actual diagnosis without ever evaluating Goldwater personally.
There were no set guidelines in place for experts up until that point. Goldwater eventually sued for libel and the case set the standard for psychiatric commentary.
The APA created the Goldwater Rule in the aftermath of the Fact debacle as a way to prevent mental health professionals from making unethical claims about a public figure’s psychological wellbeing because, according to Oquendo, such claims “could very well have eroded public confidence in psychiatry.”
We could all learn from the Goldwater Rule
While the Goldwater Rule is specifically meant for mental health professionals, it would be beneficial if others with public platforms followed suit ― but so many rarely do.
The media has been dissecting the mental health of public figures in its coverage for years (just ask Sinead O’Connor, for example), often accompanied by headlines or quips that poke fun at mental illness. And media is even guilty of inaccurate representation when it comes to the rest of the population. A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that the media disproportionately associates mental illness with violence, when in reality those with a mental health disorder are more likely to be victims of a violent crime.
Presidential candidates, themselves, often evoke psychological health as a method of mud slinging. No one is more guilty of that than Trump, who frequently uses phrases that are offensive to individuals with mental illness. He also appeared to publicly shame former GOP candidate Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi Cruz for having depression.
Most recently, Trump called into question his opponent Hillary Clinton’s mental health through comments he made at a rally in New Hampshire over the weekend.
“She is a totally unhinged person. She’s unbalanced,” Trump said. “She will cause — if she wins, which hopefully she won’t — the destruction of our country from within.”
Why these statements are problematic
The implication that a controversial presidential candidate has a mental health issue goes beyond ethics. It could have a lasting effect on those who truly have a mental illness.
Drawing a correlation between Trump’s behavior and mental illness alienates the majority of people with a mental health disorder. It implies that their diagnosis is clearly a character flaw and even encourages others to assume that mental illness is dangerous.
“Broad generalizations about a specific group of people, like those with mental illness, are so troubling because they can lead to that group being harshly pre-judged and discriminated against,” Gregory Dalack, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, previously told HuffPost.
People with mental health disorders live normal and productive lives, and their illness is not a scapegoat for awful behavior in the public eye.
Sometimes people are just racist bullies. End of story.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.
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Source: Healthy Living Huffington Post