President Donald Trump’s mental health has been the subject of widespread scrutiny and media speculation ever since he launched his presidential campaign more than a year ago.
Now a world-class expert is weighing in – Dr. Allen Frances is a professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College. Most importantly, he was the leader of the group that published the Manual of Mental Disorders, one of the most important medical texts in the mental health field.
Many people have said Trump shows signs of narcissistic personality disorder. But Dr. Frances disagrees, saying that’s an insult to the real mentally ill.
Dr. Frances took his message to the pages of the New York Times with a letter-to-the-editor this week:
Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.
Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).
Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.
According to Dr. Frances, someone must suffer from mental distress in order to be diagnosed, and he doesn’t think Trump is suffering. It’s an interesting point, but Dr. Frances’ letter is unlikely to stop the controversy over Trump’s mental stability.
Democrats and activists have been sounding the alarm over Trump’s instability for many months now. There’s a proposal to require a psychiatrist to staff the White House – and it even has support from some influential Republicans.