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We Need to Stop Calling Donald Trump 'Mentally Ill'

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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.

Many people worldwide have watched the rise of Donald Trump and have either been fascinated, entertained, disgusted or horrified by his actions — or a combination of the above mentioned. Because of all the groups and individuals he has targeted throughout political career, people seem to want to know more about this controversial character. For those who can’t comprehend his seemingly impulsive behaviors and a lack of empathy, the initial reaction is to wonder what is “wrong” with the 45th president of the United States. However, it is important to refrain from claiming Donald Trump is mentally ill in order to ensure mental illness doesn’t continue to be connected to villainous personalities as a representation of the real struggles that occur when one’s mental health is affected.

The psychiatric community has been debating a rule from the 1960s called the Goldwater Rule that prevents practitioners from delivering a diagnosis to someone they have not personally seen. John Gartner, a therapist who specializes in depression and personality disorders, has labelled Donald Trump with “Malignant Narcissism” while Dr. Allen Frances, a professor at Duke University who wrote the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, says Donald Trump “[is not] mentally ill because he doesn’t suffer the distress and impairment needed to diagnose mental disorder.”

While it could be argued Trump is exhibiting symptoms from a multitude of psychiatric disorders, calling him “mentally ill” paints a heavy stroke of stigma among those who have issues surrounding mental health. He has stigmatized many individuals and groups of people, which some of his most avid supporters have praised him for. Just as his horrific comment about Mexico sending rapists and criminals contributed to a false narrative around this community, we cannot call Trump “mentally ill” because it will negatively impact the community of people struggling with mental illness. I fear social dialogue over his discrimination can easily become a debate about his mental health instead of about the clear biases he has exhibited over the years.

Every medical term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) can be categorized under the social umbrella term of “mental illness.” If we continue to call Trump “mentally ill,” those who have experienced mental disorders ranging from trauma to trichotillomania will automatically can get lumped in with the behaviors of Donald Trump just because they are seen as “different.” For those who experience “high-functioning” mental health issues in the workplace or in school, it can be difficult to receive treatment or be taken seriously among their peers because they don’t “look” like they have a mental health difficulty.

Diagnoses are designed to pinpoint what is causing a client distress in order for it to be properly addressed with evidence-based treatments. While diagnosis can be beneficial to a person who is seeking out answers about themselves, giving someone an unwarranted diagnosis based on television appearances also opens the door to any celebrity being diagnosed for the sake of a controversial article. While many therapists are concerned about the fate of the country based on Donald Trump’s traits, I believe their concerns should have a voice in the government rather than through sensationalized media. The psychiatric community is justifiably unsettled by Trump’s behaviors now that he has the most powerful position in the world and it is understandable for them to speak out in these extreme circumstances for the sake of millions of Americans who will be (or already are) negatively affected by his actions.

There are many terms that can be used to describe Donald Trump, but “mentally ill” should not be one of them. With his dangerous rhetoric carelessly being linked to mental illness, we must remember only three to five percent of violent acts are committed by people with mental illness and they are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime. Most people with mental health afflictions aren’t dangerous people. I have a mental illness and am empathetic and do not endorse actions that hurt certain people based on their religion, gender, sexual identity or race. I understand being isolated or forgotten by society.

It may be correct to conclude there is something “wrong” with Donald Trump but it would be wrong to marginalize people with mental health difficulties with the insulting comparison to him. Comparing him  to people who have mental illnesses doesn’t show what it is really like to have a mental illness. We cannot accept it when he targets minorities with generalized terms and we can’t accept when others go astray by loosely associating him with mental illness. Instead, we must look at his behaviors, language and policies to formulate our own opinions about who is he and what he stands for.

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Lead photo via Flickr.

Originally published: March 2, 2017
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