Richard A. Friedman
The New York Times
Originally published February 17, 2017
Here are two excerpts:
A recent letter to the editor in this newspaper, signed by 35 psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, put it this way: "We fear that too much is at stake to be silent." It continued, "We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump's speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president."
But the attempt to diagnose a condition in President Trump and declare him mentally unfit to serve is misguided for several reasons.
First, all experts have political beliefs that probably distort their psychiatric judgment. Consider what my mostly liberal profession said of Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president in 1964, right before the election. Members of the American Psychiatric Association were surveyed about their assessment of Goldwater by the now-defunct Fact magazine. Many savaged him, calling him "paranoid," "grossly psychotic" and a "megalomaniac." Some provided diagnoses, like schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder.
They used their professional knowledge as a political weapon against a man they had never examined and who certainly would never have consented to their discussing his mental health in public.
Goldwater sued (successfully) and, as a result, in 1973 the A.P.A. developed the Goldwater Rule. It says that psychiatrists can discuss mental health issues with the news media, but that it is unethical for them to diagnose mental illnesses in people they have not examined and whose consent they have not received.
There is one last reason we should avoid psychiatrically labeling our leaders: It lets them off the moral hook. Not all misbehavior reflects psychopathology; the fact is that ordinary human meanness and incompetence are far more common than mental illness. We should not be in the business of medicalizing bad actors.
The article is here.