Trump’s Mental Unhealth: A New Column
I am the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President—a rare New York Times bestseller of special knowledge. The instant response of the public spoke to me about the nation’s hunger for understanding. We heard of people driving across states to get to the only nearest copy when the publisher, one of the big five in the country, never imagined such a book could be so successful.
Because of this, the calls I received from the public the morning after the 2016 election, and now requests that flood our web site, I see it as my societal duty to inform the public of the truth. And I am pleased to be featuring my column with a group that seems to have a similar passion for the truth!
To introduce myself, I am a forensic psychiatrist and faculty member at Yale School of Medicine for 17 years, taught at Yale Law School for 15 of those years, and have worked with the World Health Organization on public health approaches to global violence prevention since 2002. Before this, I was a research fellow with the National Institute of Mental Health. My views are my own, although I do represent the World Mental Health Coalition as its president.
I was never involved in politics before. I still do not consider what I am doing politics but meeting a medical need. My professional ethics code itself says I have a responsibility to society. In April 2017, I organized an ethics conference at Yale with the country’s most renowned psychiatrists, and we concluded it was our duty to speak up about a president who was a grave danger to society for mental health reasons. This led to the book and helped found the World Mental Health Coalition when thousands more mental health professionals allied with us. In March 2019, thirteen top national experts—from fields as diverse as law, history, political science, economics, journalism, nuclear science, and climate science—joined us at an unprecedented National Press Club event to speak about the wide-ranging dangers of an unfit president.
I and my colleagues met with Congress members, wrote letters and petitions, and formed an independent, nongovernmental expert panel for evaluating presidential fitness. When highly relevant data became available through the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, we performed a full mental capacity evaluation as a public service. (Of note, a personal interview is not required for a functional exam when there are firsthand reports of close associates from work, especially under sworn testimony.) In our evaluation, we found that the president failed every criterion of mental capacity, which is basic for fitness. We therefore gave our urgent recommendations.
Based on our now detailed knowledge of the president’s mental incapacity, we predicted the dangers that would ensue around impeachment, which included the massacre of our Kurdish allies and the assassination of a top Iranian military commander. Sometimes we anticipated his actions within days.
We similarly projected the outcome of the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and alerted in February and early March that it was urgent to address his mental impairments first, that the death toll would reflect not the virus but his mental problems. We issued a “Prescription for Survival,” alerting that the president’s removal, or at least removal from influence, was critical to saving lives. We warned that he could misuse civil unrest to stay in power, and now activist groups are heeding our advice.
As active as we try to be behind the scenes, consulting with governmental and civil society groups, regardless of party affiliation, we cannot address matters of a president’s mental health without public education. As difficult as it may be to consider that a person in charge of our national wellbeing is mentally unsound, it is a reality we must face. There is a reason why one of the first actions taken to protect this presidency was the American Psychiatric Association’s creation of a gag order, against member protests and in contrast to overwhelming psychiatrist opinion—it is because the mental health piece is central. I often compare the APA leadership’s subversion of professional ethics to the attorney general’s subversion of the law to protect power. Unfortunately, in the APA’s case the media fell in line rather than report on it, even as the APA reaped enormous financial and derivative financial rewards in federal funding since its intervention.
Hence, there is a lot to catch up on! Just as the public can only misjudge or forget the seriousness of the pandemic when medical experts are silenced, one result of silencing mental health experts has been to underestimate and to normalize the president’s mental pathology. Lay pundits are finally getting around to where we were three years ago, but it is important to look one step ahead, before calamities happen, and to prevent. And we cannot prevent without proper knowledge.
Over the next few weeks, I would like to convey some of that knowledge. I will discuss:
How we evaluate dangerousness, which is not a diagnosis (fixating on diagnosis can mislead by simplifying the situation, when the president likely suffers from about a dozen different conditions)
Why those who do not have the nation’s best interests in mind are able to hold the nation hostage (at the heart of their “effectiveness” are psychological tactics, which we need to be aware of to avoid the hijacking of our own minds)
What we can do to protect our own collective mental health so that we do not develop unhealthy attractions to impaired leaders in the first place.
Expertise should not only be abused for control and harm but be used in ways that are helpful to society. Knowledge is power, and a self-governing people should have access to facts as well as the best available expertise. In this spirit, I hope to see you again soon!
About the contributor:
Dr. Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div., is a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine. She served as Director of Research for the Center for the Study of Violence and co-founded Yale’s Violence and Health Study Group, a member of the World Health Organization Violence Prevention Alliance. Lee has consulted with governments on prison reform, including of New York City’s Rikers Island Correctional Center. She has published numerous scholarly articles and academic books, and has authored the textbook Violence (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019). The ethics conference she convened in April 2017 led to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (Macmillan, 2017 and 2019).
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