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You Can Criticize Trump, but Don't Call His Actions 'Schizophrenic'

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Living in New York City these days has meant living in fear. One constant has been the daily briefings from New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo gives an update about new cases of COVID-19 in the city and information about how New Yorkers can stay safe. All in all, he has been great during this crisis, until he made an offensive statement in a reply to the President.

It started on Monday, when President Trump said during a news briefing, “When somebody is President of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that.”

Responding to this comment, Governor Cuomo said in his own briefing, “It makes no sense, it’s schizophrenic.”

What do we think Governor Cuomo was trying to describe about President Trump? Was he using a medical diagnosis as an insult? Was he using my medical diagnosis as an insult?

Schizophrenia presents itself in both “positive” and “negative” symptoms. Negative symptoms include having a “flat affect,” reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life and difficulty beginning and finishing tasks. In the category of positive symptoms — like highly exaggerated ideas, and perceptions or actions that show the person can’t tell what’s real from what isn’t — there is a symptom called grandiosity. A person with grandiose delusions often believes they have absolute power or inflated influence.

But this definitely does not mean President Trump is schizophrenic, and this isn’t an excuse for what Cuomo said. He is the governor of all of the people of New York State, and shouldn’t be creating more stigma in society. He’s also not a mental health practitioner so he’s in no position to diagnose anyone.

Even if he was a doctor, mental illness should not be used as an insult or a slur. There have been times when I have walked down the city streets and have overheard people describe their bosses as “crazy and bipolar.”

I’ve also heard people say, “Oh I hate this schizophrenic weather!” When people in authority use mental illnesses as an insult, it makes people think that it’s OK to use mental illness as an insult. This is something that needs to stop.

As a New Yorker with schizophrenia, Cuomo’s comment felt like a slap in the face. Mental illnesses should never be used to describe someone negatively. What the Governor did was create even more stigma for the schizophrenia community. Being schizophrenic, stigma is everywhere. Our Governor is an educated, wealthy and powerful man, and he should know better than throwing some of his city’s most vulnerable under the bus.

I fight hard as a mental health advocate and with my company Schizophrenic.NYC to show people that anybody you know can have schizophrenia (or any mental illness) and live a completely productive and successful life. I talk to New Yorkers about this all the time. When I reveal that I have schizophrenia, I am often told by the person I am speaking with that either they have a mental illness, a friend has a mental illness or a family member does.
People with mental illness already have to fight so much stigma. We don’t need people in power making it harder. So let’s do better.

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Lead image vis Wikimedia Commons

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