News from the Field / Prevention & Awareness

An Open Letter to Congresswoman Karen Bass on #DiagnoseTrump

Dear Congresswoman Bass,

I am writing to you as a Democrat, a mental health advocate, a graduate student in clinical and counseling psychology, and as someone who deals with mental health problems himself. These aspects of me are important to know because when I saw your Change.org petition to #DiagnoseTrump, each of these aspects reacted in a different way.

As a Democrat, I don’t disagree with your concern about the behavior of Donald Trump and his ability to lead his country. But as a Democrat – as a voter – I don’t need a diagnosis to know I’m not voting for Mr. Trump this fall. Attacks on not only the character of an individual but on their health are not the way I want my party to lead their campaign.

As a mental health advocate, I have worked with organizations like Active Minds to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and illness. Petitions like these stigmatize mental health because they diminish the severity Mr. Trump’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors possess on their own, and instead contribute them to mental illness. When events and individuals in the world make us uncomfortable, it is easy to turn to an explanation like mental illness. I urge you not to make the same connection.

As a psychologist-in-training, I worry about the violation of ethics you ask all in the mental health field to commit with this petition. You acknowledge the American Psychiatric Association’s mandate not to comment on an individual’s mental state without a personal examination – something mental health professionals have already, unfortunately, violated. But this mandate comes from when a magazine asked psychiatrists to comment on the mental health of another presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. Let us not repeat this event.

I also worry about your encouragement that the lay public make their own assessment of Donald Trump’s mental health before they call us to urge the Republican Party to insist Donald Trump engage in an evaluation. This petition encourages untrained individuals to make an assessment that normally takes years of training and licensure to make. Would you ask the public to take on the responsibilities you trained for as a physician assistant? Would you, as a medical professional, call other professionals to urge another organization to insist an individual submit to medical testing?

Lastly, as an individual who lives with anxiety, I worry about what this petition implies about mental health and employment. Am I unfit to be a psychologist because I have anxiety? Are my clients and friends with mental health problems unfit to do their jobs? Perhaps the most powerful position in the world is different, but then should we not publicly evaluate Hillary Clinton and every other political leader?

These issues are complex and this election has been unlike any other. But I can say with near certainty that the appropriate response is not this petition. I urge you to remove it.

If you would also like to contact Congresswoman Bass and ask her to remove the petition, you can do so on her website or through social media like Facebook and Twitter.