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Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues

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Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues

President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world.

He has reckless disregard for democracy and its foundational principles. Trump is also an authoritarian plutocrat who appears to be using the presidency as a means to enrich himself and closest allies as well as family members. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget is a shockingly cruel document that threatens to destroy America’s already threadbare social safety net in order to give the rich and powerful (even more) hefty tax cuts. His policies have undermined the international order and America’s place as the dominant global power. It would appear that he and his administration have been manipulated and perhaps (in the case of Michael Flynn) even infiltrated by Vladimir Putin’s spies and other agents. The world has become less safe as a result of Trump’s failures of leadership and cavalier disregard for existing alliances and treaties.

Donald Trump’s failures as president have been compounded by his unstable personality and behavior. It has been reported by staffers inside the Trump White House that he is prone to extreme mood swings, is cantankerous and unpredictable, flies into blind rages when he does not get his way, is highly suggestible and readily manipulated, becomes bored easily and fails to complete tasks, is confused by basic policy matters and is unhappy and lonely. And despite bragging about his “strength” and “vitality” during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appears to tire easily and easily succumbs to “exhaustion.” Trump is apparently all id and possesses little if any impulse control. He is a chronic liar who ignores basic facts and empirical reality in favor of his own fantasies.

Between the scandals and the emotionally erratic behavior, Donald Trump would appear to be a 21st-century version of Richard Nixon, to date the only American president forced to resign under threat of forcible removal. In all, this leads to a serious and worrisome question: Is Donald Trump mentally ill? Moreover, what does Trump’s election reveal about the moods and values of his voters? How are questions of societal emotions and collective mental health connected to the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in America? Do psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have a moral obligation to warn the public about the problems they see with Donald Trump’s behavior?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist at Yale University who specializes in public health and violence prevention. She recently convened a conference that explored issues related to Donald Trump’s emotional health and how mental health professionals should respond to this crisis. The proceedings from this conference will be featured in a forthcoming book expected later this year.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

How did a person like Donald Trump become president?

My being a psychiatrist, I will inevitably see things from that lens. I also tend to think about the social context that gives rise to the current conditions. For me the big shift in our society has been the increasing inequality, and with that a certain segment of the population will end up suffering from an undue amount of poverty — a relative poverty actually, deprivation, a lack of education, a lack of health care and mental health care. All those things will contribute to worsening of collective mental health.

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