Is President Trump Mentally Healthy? The Pros Weigh In

Release time: 2020-04-21 09:19

Is President Trump Mentally Healthy? The Pros Weigh In

Two provocative new books challenge the long-standing Goldwater Rule.

Much has been written and discussed of late regarding the mental health status of President Trump. And controversy exists regarding whether or not mental health professionals should even comment on any speculated diagnoses for Mr. Trump citing the Goldwater Rule (established by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970’s stating that mental health professional should refrain from offering any speculated diagnoses about people, especially public figures, without personally evaluating them). Yet, in recent months, some leading mental health professionals have argued that the duty to warn provision (excuse the pun) "trumps" the Goldwater Rule. In essence, they argue that since the stakes are so high for serious damage to others the need to comment on Mr. Trump’s psychological and behavioral functioning and mental health overrides the long tradition of the Goldwater Rule.

Now comes a newly released book (i.e., The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump) co-authored by 27 experts that reflects upon Mr. Trump’s psychiatric status, diagnoses, and mental health functioning. This book is certainly unprecedented in modern psychiatric times. The promotional material for the book is a bit misleading in that it reports that 27 mental health professional experts have signed on as co-authors of the project yet many co-authors are not mental health professionals at all. For example, Professor Noam Chomsky is a leading and famous public intellectual, but he is a professor of linguistics and not a psychiatrist or psychologist. Gail Sheehy is a well-known author and journalist but is also not a mental health professional. And Professor Phil Zimbardo is a well-known psychologist, but he is a social psychologist and not a clinical or counseling psychologist and thus not trained to engage in psychological diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment.

In a nutshell, the book suggests that Mr. Trump is a very disturbed, psychiatrically highly compromised, and a very dangerous individual who suffers from severe and diagnostic personality dysfunction. While the book clearly violates the long-standing and generally accepted Goldwater Rule, the authors convincingly argue that the duty to warn the public of their concern is more important.

Curiously, another very recent book (i.e., Twilight of American Sanity) was published by a well-known Duke University psychiatrist, Professor Allen Frances, who was the lead author on parts of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM often referred to as "the psychiatric bible") that features the very diagnoses that the new Dangerous Case book highlights. Dr. Frances reports that focusing on the psychiatric diagnosis of Mr. Trump is unhelpful and perhaps irrelevant. He suggests that Mr. Trump is, frankly, just a bad human being with or without a psychiatric diagnosis or mental illness. He suggests that focusing on the psychiatric issues and diagnosis of Mr. Trump is a red herring that does an injustice to those who suffer from mental health issues who often function well without danger to anyone. In a nutshell, Professor Frances argues that Mr. Trump is essentially not sick, but rather a jerk.

Regardless of one’s political or psychiatric perspective, these are unprecedented times, and we seem to be going through completely unchartered waters. The mental health, psychological, and psychiatric communities may offer a wide variety of skills to assist in better understanding these challenging times and in better understanding the behavior of the primary leaders impacting where we might be going. Perhaps they, as well as others with appropriate skills, can help us figure out how best to cope and respond to our current and future challenges. And maybe if we all utilize our skills and talents to help make a better world for everyone with the common good in mind we'd be much better off anyway. Remaining silent, keeping our talents and contributions under wraps, seems to be not an appropriate or even ethical option. In this way, both of these new books completely agree. 

What do you think? 


Thomas Plante, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor at Santa Clara University and an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

Online: My SCU Website, Twitter, LinkedIn

psychology today