Don’t in­sult the men­tally ill

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­

It has only been a month since Don­ald Trump took over as pres­i­dent of the US, and al­ready one of the big­gest talk­ing points in his coun­try is whether he is fine up­stairs. Dis­cus­sions about the prop­erty mogul’s men­tal state have moved from the joc­u­lar to the se­ri­ous. Psy­chi­a­trists, in­clud­ing top men­tal ill­ness ex­perts, have waded in on the sub­ject. Most have done so anony­mously as it is con­sid­ered a vi­o­la­tion of ethics to di­ag­nose some­one with­out hav­ing ex­am­ined them. There is at least one pe­ti­tion call­ing for Trump to be med­i­cally ex­am­ined to es­tab­lish whether he is men­tally fit to hold of­fice.

This week, Allen Frances – one of Amer­ica’s most re­spected psy­chi­a­trists – came to the de­fence of the men­tally ill, say­ing it was un­fair to com­pare them with Trump. Frances was in­ti­mately in­volved with the ex­pert pan­els that drew up sev­eral ver­sions of the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Ill­nesses (DSM), which is now in its fifth edi­tion. The DSM de­fines men­tal dis­or­ders, the method­ol­ogy of di­ag­no­sis and the man­ner of treat­ment.

Writ­ing in the New York Times, Frances said it was “a stig­ma­tis­ing in­sult to the men­tally ill (who are mostly well be­haved and well mean­ing) to be lumped with Mr Trump (who is nei­ther)”.

Frances said that, al­though Trump pos­sessed some of the traits of nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity dis­or­der – such as “a grandiose sense of self-im­por­tance; ar­ro­gant be­hav­iour; car­ry­ing on with a sense of en­ti­tle­ment; and need­ing reg­u­lar praise and ad­mi­ra­tion” – this did not mean he had the con­di­tion.

“He may be a world-class nar­cis­sist, but this doesn’t make him men­tally ill be­cause he does not suf­fer from the dis­tress and im­pair­ment re­quired to di­ag­nose men­tal dis­or­der,” he said.

He con­tra­dicted some of his own col­leagues, in­clud­ing clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Julie Futrell, who re­cently told New York Daily News that Trump ex­hib­ited signs of “ma­lig­nant nar­cis­sism”.

“Nar­cis­sism im­pairs his abil­ity to see re­al­ity,” said Futrell.

Frances’ view is not held by laypeo­ple, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Congress and the Se­nate. Min­nesota Se­na­tor Al Franken re­cently told CNN that Repub­li­cans had con­fided that they were wor­ried about their man’s men­tal sta­bil­ity. He said that, be­hind closed doors, “there’s a range in what they’ll say, and some will say that he’s not right men­tally ... and then some are harsher”.

Much of the worry, he said, stemmed from the fact that “he lies a lot ... says things that aren’t true”.

“You know, that is not the norm for a pres­i­dent of the US, or, ac­tu­ally, for a hu­man be­ing,” said Franken.

Utah Repub­li­can Ja­son Chaf­fetz, who is chair of the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Reform, told the Wash­ing­ton Post’s edi­to­rial board last month that it would not be a bad idea for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to sub­ject them­selves to in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions, which would in­clude men­tal health tests. Al­though he was quick to point out that he was not nec­es­sar­ily re­fer­ring to Trump, every­one got the mes­sage.

“If you’re go­ing to have your hands on the nu­clear codes, you should prob­a­bly know what kind of men­tal state you’re in,” he said.

And therein lies the rub. The world has many ec­cen­tric lead­ers, some of whom seem dis­tinctly un­hinged. Think of the Philip­pines’ ex­e­cu­tioner Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who openly con­fesses to hav­ing rid­den around on a mo­tor­bike shoot­ing sus­pected crim­i­nals dead and throw­ing sus­pects out of he­li­copters in his ear­lier years in politics.

Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro hosts an offthe-wall weekly ra­dio show dur­ing which he bursts into crazy songs. Closer to home, you have the se­nile Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, who looks as va­cant as a park­ing lot at mid­night. Never mind the randy monarch next door, who is not sat­is­fied with the 14 women he per­ma­nently has at his dis­posal. In North Korea, you have the ex­citable Kim Jong-un, who also, un­for­tu­nately, has ac­cess to some dan­ger­ous weapons.

Since Trump took over, the main con­cern has been about the fact that a su­per­power is in the hands of a mad­man. That con­cern is in­deed valid. But the con­cern should ap­ply equally to the mad­men who run other coun­tries. The fact is that they en­dan­ger the liveli­hoods of their peo­ple and their neigh­bour­ing coun­tries just as much as Trump might. The point is that no­body, even the cit­i­zens of the most im­pov­er­ished states, de­serves to be ruled by a lu­natic.

What does set Trump apart from the rest of the lu­natics is that his de­ci­sions af­fect the whole world. When gov­ern­ment, reg­u­la­tors or in­sti­tu­tions of G8 coun­tries make de­ci­sions, the rip­ples go far and wide. So when the leader of one of those coun­tries is the sort of in­di­vid­ual who could set off a fire­works dis­play in the kitchen, you know we are all in trou­ble.

There is no doubt the early phase of the Trump pres­i­dency is go­ing to be great fun in the hu­mour depart­ment. The late-night show hosts, the co­me­di­ans and the car­toon­ists are hav­ing a field day. The me­dia has an end­less stream of news. But soon, the laugh­ter will turn to de­spair as he wreaks havoc on the world. Scary times lie ahead.

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