We Should Stop Tolerating the ‘Diagnose Trump’ Campaign

The American Psychiatric Association has warned its members to refrain from publicly commenting on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s mental health, claiming it to be stigmatizing and unprofessional. They are right.

To be sure, Trump has a talent for saying outrageous things and not letting the truth stand in the way of his grandstanding. Trump’s disconnect with reality — and his apparently gigantic ego — has inspired both condemnation and disbelief.

From his reported incredulity on why the United States can’t simply use its nuclear warheads, to his mockery of  journalist Serge Kovaleski over his disabilities, a thread has emerged in the commentary about Trump: there just has to be something wrong with him. 

Apparently unable to comprehend that Trump could simply be that unpleasant, the media has increasingly flirted with the idea that Trump is mentally ill, and several mental health professionals have raised their hands to offer corroboration.

From psychologists to neuroscientists, there has  been no shortage of people in the field ready to analyze and, sometimes, even diagnose Trump.

Clinical psychologist George Simon told Vanity Fair that Trump’s narcissism is “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops.” Others insist that Trump’s characteristics fulfill the criteria of narcissistic personality disorder so closely that they fear he would be dangerous as president. 

There’s just one issue here: while mental health professionals may feel a moral responsibility to raise the red flag in cases like this, they shouldn’t discuss potential diagnoses. And they certainly shouldn’t be talking about Trump’s mental health as though they have already diagnosed him.

That’s the message behind a recent American Psychiatric Association blog post by Maria A. Oquendo. She reminds mental health professionals of the Goldwater rule:

The rule is so named because of its association with an incident that took place during the 1964 presidential election. During that election, Fact magazine published a survey in which they queried some 12,356 psychiatrists on whether candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee, was psychologically fit to be president. A total of 2,417 of those queried responded, with 1,189 saying that Goldwater was unfit to assume the presidency.

While there was no formal policy in place at the time that survey was published, the ethical implications of the Goldwater survey, in which some responding doctors even issued specific diagnoses without ever having examined him personally, became immediately clear. This large, very public ethical misstep by a significant number of psychiatrists violated the spirit of the ethical code that we live by as physicians, and could very well have eroded public confidence in psychiatry.

The post goes on to state that breaking this rule, albeit informal, is “irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing and definitely unethical.”

Certainly, the wider speculation about Donald Trump’s mental state is damaging, and it draws on several ideas about mentally ill people that create and perpetuate stigma.

The general consensus seems to be that Trump is just so unreasonable that there must be something wrong with him. The idea originates from an online campaign created by Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass and joined by thousands seeking to have Trump diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“#DiagnoseTrump” seems well-meaning enough. The campaign was apparently built on a genuine concern for what Trump might do should he become president. Admittedly, Trump may well have a personality or mood disorder, but the point is we do not know.

This is something for Trump’s physicians to investigate should the need arise. It is not, however, the place of social media to to speculate about his mental health on the public stage, nor should it fuel an attempt at an international public outing of someone’s mental health status.

There are several reasons to resist this campaign. #DiagnoseTrump is crass for one thing, but more importantly, it creates a precedent that suggests mental health can be leveraged for use against people.

Trump’s comments and actions are alarming and should be used against him in this race, but his mental health should be a private matter.

Failing to recognize this distinction is harmful because it creates an untenable situation. How can prospective mental health patients be sure that their own diagnoses will not being discussed in public by mental health professionals should they ever step into the spotlight? Mental health treatment hinges on absolute trust, and this kind of speculation breaks that confidence.

This line of attack also misses a key point about this election cycle. All of Trump’s racism and xenophobia, his flagrant anti-intellectualism and his blatant and sickening sexism and misogyny are certainly toxic. Not coincidentally, they also make Trump the perfect candidate for this Republican presidential ticket.

To be sure, there are many reasonable and morally sound people who have supported the GOP, and there are also many Republican party members who are just as appalled by Trump as the rest of the world. The problem is, Trump’s policy points are nearly identical to what Republican legislators have been saying and doing for the past decade.

One need only look at the party’s odious platform – or to their stonewalling in Congress and their antics at the federal and state level –  to realize that, on every front, Republicans have attempted to disenfranchise women, strip minorities of their rights and bolster their own political power.

By giving in to the “Trump is mentally ill” messaging, we also give a sly pass to the Republican party and its attempts to shirk all responsibility. Trump is the perfect product of the party’s own monstrous politics. And in that, we have to face an uncomfortable truth: Trump is a Republican. In fact, he is the Republican of choice.

Unless we prevent damaging and corrosive distractions from entering the dialog surrounding Trump, he may also be America’s future.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.

142 comments

John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Ryan R
Ryan R.2 years ago

Sorry Care2, wrong. You've never lived with and been a victim of an NPD. It is not narcissism, its far different. It's nothing short of demonic possession, rage, and every emotional manipulator they rehearse and perfect -- with the face of an angel. NPD is a highly dangerous mental disorder. I lived with one and paid the price dearly. Many victims of NPD terror are out there. Go on You Tube. The medical community asking for the President to be evaluated because he demonstrates many signs (at least 5 of the 9 ) is justified for the President of the United States. Get a backbone please. This is a disorder of such extreme impulse control problems, rage and a host of many bizarre Cluster B behaviors. He cant be diagnosed from afar, true, but its fair to call for a President to be evaluated for a highly dangerous disorder when he shows so many potential signs. If he showed signs of schizophrenia, why wouldn't we ask for evaluation? NPD is uncontrollable, and most mental health practitioners consider it "untreatable" or "unfixable" and nearly undetectable. See Sam Vaknin for more. Normal mental disorders should not be stigmatized, true, we should feel empathy for those individuals. The NPD narc is different -- they deserve no empathy because they will stop at nothing to destroy their victims, and there is little treatment for NPD. My children and I barely survived my NPD narc, at a tremendous cost. You'll never get it unless yo

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly2 years ago

Hi David,

Donald Trump was asking for the phone numbers and email addresses of all your daughters, granddaughters and/or granddaughters that are 15 years old or younger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZAeUsLiLzY

You can just submit the numbers and addresses with your monthly donation to the Trump staff, which is composed of his immediate family. The tithing will help fund the next slaughter of African fauna by the Trump children.

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Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly2 years ago

Hey David F, would it be OK with you if Donald Trump sat a 15 year-old girl from your family on his lap? Link to multiple youtube of your hero below,

The Trumpster said that his daughter, Ivanka, was soooo hot that he would date her if he wasn't her daddy. That's a real, republican, family-values guy for you. Anyway, have you introduced your family to your favorite candidate, David?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZAeUsLiLzY

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David Youmans
David Youmans2 years ago

David F...

In other words, you're unable to provide links to your list of lies, because such a thing doesn't exist, or because that list is from a site that we all know is low grade bullshit.

Precisely what I expected from you, because truth, isn't your friend. Truth exposes the crap you post, as being crap, and you don't like that. You just keep digging yourself in, deeper and deeper, and eventually the walls of the pit are going to collapse around you.

We've heard all those lies David. We just aren't gullible enough to fall for them. I've seen them in the "Headlines" of the sites you post links to here. I regularly have people call me gullible, just for believing in God, but I'm certainly not gullible enough to believe even a quarter of the crap you post on here, and I doubt that very many people here, are that gullible.

If you don't supply proof, it's because you can't, and we all know it...

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Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly2 years ago

Hi David F, still finger painting with poop in your rubber cell, I see.

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Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly2 years ago

Sonya Mcdougal "I am neither Democrat or Republican, I am an average person" .... blah blah blah (about 'both sides do it' ......... blah blah ............ throw away your vote by voting for a third party candidate .......... blah blah ................ or stay home on election day.

So if you're really "neither a Democrat or (sic) a republican, Sonya, are we correct in assuming that you've posted your "both sides do it" comment at Breitbart, Drudge, NewsMax et. al? We can all visit those sites and find your prompt to make your vote meaningless, right?

Thought not.

Every, single hater, bigot, climate change denier, birther, racist, oil company billionaire, pharmaceutical scammer, KKK and Nazi party member will be voting for the candidate that every one of them has endorsed, Donald J. Trump.

Sonya Mcdougal suggests that Care2 People should stay home.

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David Youmans
David Youmans2 years ago

Gee David F...

Still nothing to indicate that your long list is based on any form of truth?

Keane's current profession of trying to promote warfare for the United States, kind of makes any statements he makes about war, questionable, to say the least. If he's a lobbyist for the Military Industrial Complex, it's in his best interest, to promote war, so that his employers will make more money. this means that it's hard to really take what he says as anything but involved self interest.

Still waiting for a source on your long list below...

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Waterboarding IS TORTURE. We executed Japanese for waterboarding Americans after World War II (but I guess when "we" do it it is okay, huh?)

http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2015/jan/12/bobby-scott/bobby-scott-after-wwii-us-executed-japanese-war-cr/

Jesus, I hate a damned "torture apologist," masquerading as a "patriot".

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