Throughout history, the Commander in Chief has been the target of various ailments. Theodore Roosevelt suffered from asthma as a child and later became deaf in his left ear. His distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, struggled with mobility issues associated with a case of polio. George H.W. Bush, as well as his wife Barbara, both suffered from Grave’s disease, a thyroid disorder, and, if we go off what the Internet tells me, every president in recent history has also suffered from narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder, one of a number of personality disorders described in psychiatric guides, is as controversial as such open diagnoses of presidential figures. The “Goldwater rule,” found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics, specifically holds that, that “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on public figures] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” The American Psychological Association also urges that individuals in psychological fields take great care in making public statements. Finally, for journalists, the Associated Press’s Stylebook asks that one “[does] not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.”
Despite claims that such pieces are for the “public good,” pieces diagnosing the President with mental illness seem to emerge only after the President takes a particularly polarizing measure. These pieces weaponize mental illness as a means to make the President out to be unfit for his job, as well as to make a broad spectrum of traits out to be pathological in nature. In linking mental illness and undesirability, the authors of such pieces only contribute to the stigma they often purport to challenge. This also excuses the author from putting in any effort beyond checking off boxes next to a googled list of symptoms. Overall, the armchair diagnosis of public figures does little in the way of promoting healthy discussions about mental illness and the impact of such illness on a larger scale.
We need to end the exploitation of the fields of psychology and psychiatry in the furthering of one’s political biases. Mental illness should not be viewed as a tool with which one can deem the public officials wholly inadequate. If we are to discuss connections between mental health and the realm of politics, we need to do so in a manner that encompasses a wide range of views, not solely those that we find undesirable. We need to recognize that people are complex beings, and cannot and should not be reduced to a list of symptoms.