This question has floated around for months – ‘is President Trump mentally fit to hold office or not?
but the issue reignited recently with the publication of Michael Wolff’s bestselling book, Fire and Fury, which gives an account of life in the White House.
Michael Wolff has said that Trump’s own staff “came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job”.
It’s not just journalists who have cast doubt on Trump’s state of mind. A host of psychologists and mental health experts have made similar claims.
One psychologist even started a petition for Trump to be removed from office, claiming he “manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States”.
But there are deep divisions among mental health professionals about these attempts to diagnose the president with a mental health disorder. Let’s look at the claims and counter-claims.
The claims vary
Wolff has questioned Trump’s “intellectual capacity”, explaining that he “doesn’t read” and “doesn’t listen”.
One psychiatrist says it is Trump’s “difficult relationship to reality and his inability to respond in an even-handed way to a crisis [that] renders him unfit to be president”. Another believes he is a psychopath.
So, there is a range of different questions here, not a single, uniform argument.
Of course, some people may believe this is because the president has multiple mental health issues.
But we should nevertheless try to be clear in distinguishing between them in order to assess each case on its own merits.
The experts disagree
One of the leading voices making claims about Trump’s mental health is Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, but she’s not alone.
Indeed, Lee has said that “at no other time in US history has a group of mental health professionals been so collectively concerned about a sitting president’s dangerousness”.
This is one point of view. After all, Lee published a book on the subject along with more than two dozen mental health experts.
But there are also those who take a different position, such as Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who believes some of the claims made by various people do not stack up.
In a letter to the New York Times, he warned against those who “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.”
Here in the UK, some experts have also distanced themselves from claims that Donald Trump is ill. Psychologist Dr John McGowan, for instance, has written that “saying Donald Trump is mentally ill is unethical, inaccurate and unhelpful”.
McGowan points out numerous flaws, including that “a significant problem with mental health judgements is that they are somewhat subjective”.
Likewise, Dr Meron Wondemaghen, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Southampton, has argued that the traits Donald Trump displays “are not necessarily symptoms of mental illness”.
“Many unappealing human behaviours are still dismissed as behaviours of the mentally ill,” she writes.
“Too often, we seem incapable of distinguishing between a disorder of mind and a disorder of character. Clinical definitions and diagnoses rely on subjective psychiatric observation and judgement rather than identification of specific disease pathways.”