Politicians and political pundits debate Donald Trump's mental health almost every day online and on television. And yet we rarely hear from actual mental-health experts on the subject.at of President Trump's fitness to serve.
It turns out, that's because psychiatrists have essentially been gagged on the subject of a politician's health.
The situation goes back all the way to the 1964, when the behavior of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater led a group of over 1100 psychiatrists to declare him unfit to serve in an article for Fact magazine. None of the shrinks had actually screened Goldwater, so their conclusions were based solely on his impulsive behavior and decision to advocate using nuclear weapons more liberally. (Sound familiar?)
After losing the election, Goldwater sued Fact magazine for libel and won, which prompted the American Psychiatric Society to release a guideline saying "it is unethical for psychiatrists to offer a professional opinion" on a public figure unless the psychiatrist has conducted an evaluation of that public figure.
The 'Goldwater Rule' makes sense in theory. Speculating on the mental fitness of a presidential nominee can have massive repercussions for not only the candidate but the nation as a whole and even the entire world. But the problem with the guideline is that it only applies to psychiatrists. Politicians, pundits, commentators, comedians and anyone else is free to speculate on the mental fitness of a president even though they are not skilled in the field, and their assessment is undoubtedly influenced by partisanship.
And they can spout those uninformed and biased opinions on TV, online, in print or via singing telegram if they want. That means everyone can weigh in on the issue except for the experts that could actually shed some light on the topic. We're basically debating how to build a rocket ship, but nobody from NASA is allowed to chip in any advice.
But some psychiatrists are breaking rank on the issue. Dr. Bandy X Lee — an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine — recently edited a who recently edited a collection of essays on Trump that describe the president as a "pathological narcissist" that demonstrates a "lack of consciousness and empathy" and exhibits "paranoid ideation."
For more on that analysis, and the difficulties psychiatrists face when trying to talk about Trump, check out Dr. Lee's interview with Carlos Maza of Vox.