clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Commenting on Trump’s mental health is fine, psychiatry group says

New, 36 comments

It defies the Goldwater Rule

Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Holds Off-Camera Briefing At White House Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The American Psychoanalytic Association, a leading psychiatry group in the US, told its 3,500 members that they can comment on the mental state of politicians, including President Donald Trump. The decision breaks with a decades-old rule that keeps experts from publicly talking about the psychiatric condition of public figures they haven’t actually examined. It also puts the American Psychoanalytic Association at odds with another leading psychiatry group, the American Psychiatric Association.

The so-called Goldwater Rule was written after 1964, when a magazine published the results of a survey in which more than a thousand psychiatrists claimed that the Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was “psychologically unfit to be President.” Goldwater won a defamation suit against the magazine, and in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association adopted the ban. The reasoning behind it is that a psychiatrist has to actually examine a patient in order to diagnose mental health disorders. (There are no real consequences for violating the rule, according to STAT.)

But in recent months, there’s a been a heated debate among mental health professionals regarding the Goldwater Rule: since the election, many psychologists and psychiatrists have spoken to the media about Trump, openly analyzing his erratic behaviors, and even stating that “the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” In March, the American Psychiatric Association announced it remained committed to the rule, but many distinguished members say it is an infringement on their freedom of expressions. “I think there’s a duty to warn,” psychiatrist Jerrold Post told The New Yorker. “It seems unethical to not contribute at this perilous time.”

In an email to its members on July 6th, the American Psychoanalytic Association challenged the American Psychiatric Association on the matter, publicly telling its members for the first time that the group doesn’t follow the rule. The email was sent because of a “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” American Psychoanalytic Association former president Prudence Gourguechon told STAT, which first reported on the news. “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.”