Mental Health, Donald Trump, and the curious case of the Goldwater Rule.

trump imaginationSo Donald Trump is not a normal candidate for President. He’s an egotist, an ignoramus, a racist and someone who incites hate among his supporters. But is he crazy? Insane? Off the reservation? Not playing with a full deck? Cuckoo pants?

The question of the state of Donald Trump’s mental health is coming up more often it seems with each new provocation, gaffe or lie from his campaign. But is playing armchair psychologist the right response?

Professional psychiatrists are supposed to adhere to what’s known as the “Goldwater Rule,” named for the late Arizona Senator and 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. Vox has a good explainer on the Goldwater Rule’s history but the tl;dr version is that professionals should not offer a public diagnoses of anyone whom they haven’t personally examined and who hasn’t authorized them to make a public statement. I think most of us would agree that for a medical professional this is in line with a host of ethics expectations (not to mention patient protection and privacy laws).

But what about a Goldwater Rule for the media and the public? Do we have any responsibility when it comes to offering our own diagnosis on what may or may not ail Donald Trump? Or, perhaps put another way, do we have a right and/or a responsibility to publicly question the mental health of a candidate for office?

I ask because I’m honestly torn. When Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former advisor, tweets that Trump is unwell, my instinct is to nod, and I think, yup, something isn’t right. But on the other hand as someone with my own experiences with mental health issues I think it’s playing with fire to cavalierly toss around questions about someone else’s mental health. It can perpetuate stigmas of mental health issues. I’m really divided on this. I don’t know what the right answer is.

So help me out. Leave a comment with your thoughts on the matter.



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