Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, reprinted Section Four of the 25th Amendment in a resolution this month that called for a panel of psychiatrists to be formed to “determine whether the President suffers from mental disorder or other injury that impairs his abilities and prevents him from discharging his Constitutional duties.”
Health care professionals have been hesitant to vocalize their opinions. This is largely because of the Goldwater Rule, an ethical guideline adopted by the American Psychiatric Association which bars their members from releasing opinions about an individual’s mental health unless that individual has been examined in person and given his permission for such an opinion to be publicized.
News organizations, various petitions and congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle, however, have no such restrictions and have recently called President Trump’s mental health into question.
The Editorial Board wants to emphasize that many of these critiques have had the unintended consequence of further stigmatizing mental illness.
Duke University psychiatrists have estimated that as many as 18 presidents likely suffered from a mental illness during their lifetimes, and as IDS columnist Anne Anderson reminded us last week, it is entirely ableist to correlate mental illness with misogyny, racism or any other moral defect.
Mental illness in no way precludes individuals from being intelligent and just leaders, or from contributing to society in a myriad other ways. The Editorial Board urges healthcare professionals to continue to uphold the Goldwater Rule and prevent mental illness —which affects nearly 44 million Americans annually— from remaining a sensationalized and stigmatized issue.
What, however, should be done if our president is debilitated by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia? The American people would certainly benefit from knowing that our country's leader may be suffering from such an ailment, but how exactly could such a disease be detected?
As many of our public servants enter into their seventh or eighth decade of life, a standardized, unbiased cognitive assessment may become not only useful, but necessary. A federally appointed psychiatric panel may be prone to prejudice or political bias. However, simple diagnostics such as the Mini-Mental Health Examination, could provide objective data points for tracking an elected official’s mental decline.
Other medical professionals are skeptical about how effective such screening procedures may be, especially when introduced in a tense and polarized political atmosphere.
"Until the system is fixed and the political culture changes, medical information is rather useless," psychiatrist Dr. Jacob Appel said in a recent interview with NPR. "To one side, it will be a smoking gun, and to the other side it will be fake news or alternative facts."
An ideal political world concerned with what is best for the American populace would welcome such mandatory assessments. Today, unfortunately, it would likely just become another partisan issue.
At 71, Trump is at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which his father was diagnosed with in 1993. But he still has a full decade of life before reaching the average age of diagnosis for either disease.
While it is certainly important to monitor the health of our elected officials, media coverage of our current president should be focused less on speculative diagnoses and more on what he is trying, or failing, to do as our nation’s leader.