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Should Mental Health Professionals Diagnose President Trump?

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Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Is President Trump mentally ill? Who am I to say?

I am a mental health professional. I am very familiar with the DSM and diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses, developmental disorders and personality disorders. So I believe I am capable of evaluating the president and concluding a correct diagnosis if called upon to do so.

It is a growing concern for many that the president may have a mental illness, stemming from the irrationality of many of his tweets and public behaviors. Some things he says about the power he wields has led many in my field to call him out as an individual with narcissistic personality disorder and other disorders. However, the majority of these professionals have never met Trump, and none of them have personally evaluated him in a structured setting.

Therein lies the rub. Without a formal, structured diagnostic interview at minimum, these professionals cannot ethically give a diagnosis. Indeed, even with a formal, structured diagnostic interview, they could not ethically announce to the world his diagnos(es). Trump may experience mental health issues, but that does not give us professionals the right to hazard guesses using our professional “hats” as to what those may be, all for our own political agenda. It is an ethical failing on the part of those in my field.

When it comes to the rights of the people versus the rights of the president, there are several areas I would like to address. The summation of these points falls under the standard of rights used in residential treatment. The rights of one do not outweigh the rights of the many. However, the individual still has rights that must be upheld. The president has the right to privacy. Just like any other citizen, HIPPA rights are his. This means that his healthcare professionals cannot disclose his private information, including his mental health information, as it is protected. However, the president is the leader of the country, and is left with the responsibility of the safety of the citizens. Once his health, including mental health, comes to a point where it impacts the people of the country — for example, if his (potential) mental health condition becomes unstable — then it is within the rights of the people to know about it. The rights of the many outweigh the rights of one once it impacts them.

Even considering all this, it can only be the responsibility of a treating healthcare worker who has intimate knowledge of the president that a true diagnosis can be known and divulged. Therefore, all the “professionals” who are using their place to disparage the president under the guise of public safety and the rights of the citizens of this country are abusing their knowledge and violating their ethical code. In my opinion, there should be real-world consequences for this.

Don’t misunderstand me — I spare no love for our president. I have my personal suspicions about the state of his mental health. Personal suspicions I do and will keep to myself, since I have never met him and have no right to wonder about his status publicly. My concern is less about the impact this issue has on the president and more about what it says about the trustworthiness and ethical integrity of my colleagues.

A final point I will make regards the prejudice many people, even unknowingly, hold against individuals with mental health issues. Even an individual with mental illness can serve as a competent and good president, or any other profession they wish to hold, including a mental health professional. Many do. If the president does have a mental health diagnosis, this does not disqualify him from the job. However, just like in any walk of life, individuals with mental illness often must work harder to maintain a high level of functioning. But most can and do.

Every single person you meet has dealt with issues that when magnified can result in mental health crises. Sadness magnified is depression. Most people have experienced a depression that, while not all are considered clinical, can give everyone a taste of what it is like for someone who experiences clinical depression. Everyone has experienced anxiety, and while not everyone has experienced panic attacks, they know enough of it to know that in the extreme it would be extremely difficult to manage. Which means that everyone has the potential to understand how strong people who deal with mental illness are in order to function at the level they do every day. Someone with the strength and understanding to succeed in life with a mental health diagnosis can certainly have the potential to lead the free world successfully, if only requiring a little extra help from those of us who are mental health professionals from time to time.

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Originally published: February 8, 2018
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