Pathologizing the President Reinforces Mental Illness Stigma
A large group of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and other mental health workers have declared Donald Trump mentally ill and unfit to be president.
They don’t name the mental illness, or cite any specific behaviors that make him a threat to the country or constitution. They merely state that he is sick and call for his ouster.
“Duty to Warn” has the signatures of 60,000 mental health professionals, none of whom have assessed the president, on a petition calling for Trump’s removal due to “serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” [Ed. – Actually, as we pointed out here back in August, this is simply a petition of 60,000 signatures — NOT of ONLY mental health professionals. For context, there are 340+ million individuals in the United States. Psychology Today was pedaling its own version of “fake news.”]
To take the petition at it’s word, it is not any deviant acts that disqualify Trump, but the mere fact that the undersigned believe he has a mental illness, and that alone disqualifies him. Many responsible people have serious mental illness that they manage, and they function very well. But they still have a serious mental illness. Would these doctors disqualify this group of patients from doing their jobs?
Every one of the signatories of this petition has saddled the seriously mentally ill with the question of what duties, if any, they each are able to discharge. Hold a job? Raise a family? Lead?
To be so cavalier in diagnosing and dismissing an individual they have never examined can only lead those who have been properly assessed to question their diagnoses from these doctors and therapists so willing to call for the ouster of a President with no actual diagnosis. What about the teacher, accountant, or truck driver who actually does reach out for treatment? Can corporate executives or congressmen be removed from their jobs because someone with a degree who they’ve never met has the gall to simply declare them mentally ill?
What about the productively employed person who does have a diagnosis and makes a mistake on the job? Is that illness alone legitimate grounds for dismissal?
These 60,000 mental health professionals signal that it is. [Ed. – Again, this is not the case. The petition is not of 60,000 mental health professionals — just 60,000 individuals who happened to sign an online petition.] This can only increase the stigma held against those who suffer from mental illness yet attempt to be self-sufficient, and this attitude on the part of so many in the mental health field can only drive those who are productive and positively contributing to society to avoid treatment when they need it, lest they too be branded incapable of discharging their duties due to the mere fact that they have a mental illness.
There’s damage done when a man freely elected is passed off as mentally unsound by those who oppose him. Sure, he is egotistical, grandiose, and has poor impulse control. He’s rash and has been an ineffective and unpopular leader. His character is questionable and he has a difficult personality. Yet many sane people share these traits, and for so many unqualified opinions to question his sanity because of these things is insensitive to the people with actual mental illness who struggle daily against the stigma placed on them.
Many of Trump’s policies could divert or limit funding from effective mental health programs. He does seem willing to sacrifice proven results on the altar of ideology. But this makes him a proponent of limited government and less federal involvement in funding social and medical programs.
Yes, this could negatively impact some who are mentally ill, but these and other policies do not disqualify him from being president any more than they make him crazy. Trump’s policies can be properly countered by opponents in the free elections our constitution grants us, beginning with next year’s mid-terms, without resorting to the 25th amendment and removing the President for a trumped up diagnosis.
We need no psychology professionals violating their own code of ethics concerning diagnostic criteria and mistakenly offering misinformation about a population already limited by stigma.
Duty to Warn is planning a number of town halls across the country on October 14th. I would hope the extraordinary difficulty of diagnosing a serious mental illness and the fact that such a diagnosis does not automatically preclude a patient from great responsibility will come up, but I fear the meetings will be political and serve to further advance the stigma against those with mental illness.
These professionals should be using their pulpit to promote the promise and possibilities each patient is capable of, and to insist on acceptance of those who suffer but work to improve their and their families’ position.
Instead, the petition reinforces an attitude of “if it’s awkward or uncomfortable it must be crazy” and traps the mentally ill in the corner of limited self-direction and low expectations.
The stigma from the general population due to lack of information can be explained. The stigma from 60,000 professionals who should know better is unconscionable.
Editor’s note: We want to apologize that an earlier version of this article referenced an online petition with the claim that it was signed by “60,000 mental health professionals.” As we’ve updated this story to reflect, we actually debunked this petition back in August 2017. We apologize that neither the original author nor our editors caught this error.
Hofmann, G. (2018). Pathologizing the President Reinforces Mental Illness Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/pathologizing-the-president-reinforces-mental-illness-stigma/