“What is mental illness,” wonders Lindsey Weedston, “in a society where someone like Donald Trump could become the U.S. president?” And how could someone who behaves so “consistently inappropriately and erratically,” so badly, be considered “mentally competent enough to become the leader of the world’s biggest superpower?”
“For the past few months, nothing has seemed normal. He breaks well-established political norms on a regular basis. He says terrible and blatantly cruel things. He lies all the time. He puts completely incompetent people into positions of power,” says Weedston. “In short, he’s not behaving at all like he should.”
Dr. Allen Frances, MD, one of the doctors who helped develop the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, helped Weedston set the record straight.
“It is a great, and frequently made, error to equate bad behavior with mental illness. The mentally ill only rarely behave badly and people who behave badly are rarely mentally ill. And as many people have pointed out, talking about bad behavior as though it’s an inevitable quality of the mentally ill does us a lot of harm,” Allen told her.
In the broader social context, talk of mental illness “still seems to be fairly surface level,” and rarely takes nuances into account, says Weedston. So it is still very unclear who exactly is “neurotypical” because our system of diagnosing mental illness is so biased and imprecise.
Instead of debating whether Donald Trump truly is mentally ill, argues Weedston, “we should be talking about his white-supremacist-backed bigot horror machine administration and how his policies threaten the lives and livelihood of millions of people globally. And while we’re at it, we also need to have a deeper conversation about what mental illness is, including how it’s defined, who gets to define it, and how that definition changes with privilege — or a lack thereof.”