On Friday night, I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher and the panel discussion inevitably went to the subject of Donald Trump. For those of you living under a rock, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President. His campaign has been filled with so many gaffs that it’s no longer funny to make fun of him. It’s a frightening reality that he could potentially be the next President of the United States.
So as Bill Maher’s panel, featuring Rob Reiner, went in to discuss this particularly ridiculous week in Trump’s campaign, I settled in for a few laughs (because if we don’t laugh, we might have to cry over this new reality). So here I was, all ready to laugh, when Rob Reiner exclaimed: “He’s mentally ill!” Reiner repeatedly and emphatically called Donald Trump mentally ill. Maher went one step further and joked: “This is the first Presidential candidate that has been nominated from the loony bin.”
In terms of discussing Donald Trump, this isn’t anything new. Actually, at least Reiner and Maher were joking. There’s been rampant speculation in the media on whether or not Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder or if he’s a sociopath. Headlines talking about Trump often have the words “crazy” and “insane” in them. Additionally, California Democratic Representative, Karen Bass, actually launched a Change.org petition calling for mental health professionals to demand that the GOP evaluate Trump’s mental health. This launched the #DiagnoseTrump hashtag, which quickly started trending.
Now, I’ll be the last person to rush to Trump’s defense. I find him a reprehensible individual. His policies are a joke. His xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and misogyny are frightening. I’m also not necessarily ruling out the fact that he might be suffering from some sort of personality disorder either. But we need to stop the arm chair diagnosing and stop calling him mentally ill in the media.
When we equate a person like Trump with mental illness we’re creating a false equivalency. We’re saying that Trump’s vile actions and words is what mental illness looks like, which is patently untrue. Those of us who suffer from a mental illness are generally kind, compassionate, and sensitive people and to be lumped in with a disgusting person like Trump is unfair. His behaviour and ideologies are embedded in xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and misogyny and not in some underlying mental illness.
Calling Trump mentally ill also further stigmatizes an already marginalized group of people. People living with a mental illness often live in secret because they’re afraid of what coming forward about their illness might mean for their relationships and careers. Equating mental illness with Donald Trump further perpetuates the idea that mental illness is something “bad” or negative and should be hidden. This may stop people from seeking help they desperately need because they don’t want to be associated in the same category as Trump.
Finally, by calling Donald Trump mentally ill as a means of explaining why he’s unfit for the presidency we’re suggesting that a mental illness makes people ill-equipped for leadership positions in general. Now, I’m not saying Trump isn’t unfit for the presidency. That’s not up for debate in my opinion. He is. But it’s not because he has a mental illness. The reality is that people who suffer from a mental illness are no less capable than people without a mental illness. Just because you have bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you can’t become the CEO of a company. Your depression won’t stop you from becoming a doctor. Your anxiety won’t stop you from being a teacher. If you have a mental illness you should still be able to be the damn President of the United States. We need to stop equating mental illness with incompetency.
So, once and for all, can we stop calling Donald Trump mentally ill?