Mental health professionals fear reprisals if they say publicly that Donald Trump may be psychologically unwell, according to a therapist who believes “half of America” is suffering panic attacks because of the President’s actions.
Psychiatrists are afraid they will be sued or reported to professional regulators if they say Mr Trump is suffering a mental illness, Dr John Gartner told The Independent, adding he had received “a lot of very crude hate mail” after speaking out.
Last week he and a few others sidestepped the longstanding Goldwater Rule—designed to discourage therapists from attempting to diagnose public figures without having examined them—by calling for a psychological evaluation of the 45thPresident over what they said were “impulsive” acts, like bombing a Syrian airfield after a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Assad government.
They were criticised by one Republican who said they were ignoring ethical standards for political reasons.
Dr Gartner said: “I do know some colleagues who are worried about being sued. Complaints could be made against their licence. There’s a fear of it. Losing your licence is the worst thing that could happen to you. It’s enough to make many back off.”
The Baltimore, Maryland, practitioner said he believed the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which backs the rule in part because it thinks breaking it could damage patients’ confidence in therapists, would be on the wrong side of history as he compared Mr Trump’s behaviour to that of Adolf Hitler.
He said: “I don’t think it would damage [patients’] confidence in their doctors. When Hitler was rising no German psychiatrists spoke out against him, not one.
“We don’t look upon that now as having been the height of professional ethics. This is the rise of a dangerously mentally ill President. Someone who has a malignant narcissism that makes him a threat.
“I think history will judge the position of the APA very harshly. I’m not saying he’s as bad as Hitler and Stalin, what I’m saying is he’s a member of the same diagnostic group.”
At a panel organised by Yale University lecturer Dr Bandy Lee last week, Dr Gartner employed vivid imagery to illustrate his fears. He said: “I keep being haunted by a fantasy—my adult grandchildren and I are huddled around a garbage can fire, wearing ragged gloves without fingers, slapping our hands together over the flames trying to keep warm.
“Along with other survivors of World War Three, we’re living in a refuge camp in Idaho, one of the last habitable places in America, so remote it was never targeted.”
The APA said last year, in a blog post specifically addressing the presidential election, that speaking in this way was “potentially stigmatising” for people with mental health problems.
And JR Romano, the Connecticut Republican party chairman, accused the Yale panellists of “throwing ethical standards out the window because they cannot accept the election results”.
In February another psychiatrist, Dr Allen Frances, spoke out against “psychiatric name-calling” which he said was “a misguided way of countering Mr Trump’s attack on democracy”.
Dr Frances, of Duke University Medical College, headed a taskforce that literally wrote the book on diagnosing mental illness in 1994. He added in a letter to the New York Times: “It is a stigmatising insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr Trump (who is neither).”