Trump and the Language of Mental Health around his Bigotry

A conversation that I wasn’t entirely enamored with occurred on Twitter recently regarding Donald Trump and mental health. This was between writers, journalists, and people with mental health needs (or people who fell into more than one of those categories) who agreed that Trump “doesn’t have the temperament to be President.” They disagreed about “whether [they] needed to frame temperament-issues in terms of mental health.” David Perry wrote about this – whether it was advisable to frame Trump’s behavior through a mental health framework. He presented varying arguments from multiple sides of the discussion. Some of the arguments included, several in response to each other:

  • argument 1: not talking about Trump’s mental health would increase stigma via silence on mental health
  • argument 2: “if he were dxed would… agree with you,” and that it was the armchair diagnosis speculation and use of “insane” as insulting that bothered them.
  • argument 3: temperament isn’t the result of mental illness
  • argument 4: mental illness is not a reason to be unfit for public office
  • argument 5: Trump isn’t right in the head and not even politicians are that self-centered
  • and it went on with other points, some that could be categorized under others.

I am quite inclined to agree with Finn of Expectedly that “Wrong does not mean crazy.” Finn wrote:

Trump’s disgusting plans are not the result of a mental illness; they’re the result of deep-set, unbridled bigotry that he’s exploiting to worm his way into the White House… The Republican Party as a whole deserves to be blasted… But this isn’t about mental illness; it’s about entrenched white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Christian supremacy and other prejudices.
People need to stop claiming that politicians – and their supporters – whose political views differ from theirs as a sign of a mental illness, as though people can’t hold different political beliefs without considering them rationally. This stereotype also comes with the insinuation that mental illness necessarily means the lack of agency required to arrive at a reasoned political decision, which is grossly untrue.

Discussing Trump’s mental health status is kind of getting into the territory where people will use it to say that people with mental health needs can’t be effective candidates for public office if they choose to run. People are also so eager to blame bigotry on mental health needs. It helps people, in my opinion, distance themselves from the thought that they could ever be bigoted about anything (when I don’t know one person who hasn’t screwed up in that regard at least once).

So, sure, being erratic and lying a lot could be a sign of mental health needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the reason for things like Trump being a bigot. I’d like to make the point that people with mental health needs are people with many varying viewpoints on the world so if a person with mental health needs is a bigot, I would argue that the mental health needs are most often a coincidence. I know people with mental health needs who have done less than pleasant things – even, perhaps, said hurtful things about groups of people – in the middle of any sort of episode. I have had episodes where I’ve said less than stellar things, though I don’t think I’ve ever said bigoted things because of an episode – but I think it’s too easy to write Trump off as being a delusional, pathologically lying narcissist.

Finally, I really, really don’t think that talking about it in this context will lead to less stigma. In certain contexts? Remaining silent about mental health needs absolutely can increase stigma, can result in mental health needs being the bogeyman in the closet, a family’s dark secret, you get the drift – and I also advocate for the consent of the person in question. Even though Trump is a political figure and thus invites judgment, I feel like discussing it in this context invites severe judgment on people with mental health needs. It links bigotry to mental health needs because Trump is such a bigot that if people think Trump + mental health needs, they are going to start associating mental health needs with Trump-type bigotry.

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Everyone, particularly other people with mental health needs – and especially those with particularly stigmatized diagnoses like bipolar I/II/NOS, schizophrenia, or any mental health need involving psychosis, for instance – is welcome to weigh in on this. Read the comment policy before submitting a comment; I moderate comments. 

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Using People with Mental Illness as Clickbait Hurts Us

Bad articles on the problems we face can hurt and kill people. Write better.

Dear everyone, including myself: We deserve to be alive. We have the right to self-directed services and whatever works best for us. We deserve to be alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.
I have been on medication for a long time, first for ADHD, then anxiety, then depression. I have intermittently had periods of wanting to die since age 14. My most recent full-blown crisis landed me in the hospital. It was not a question for my friends whether they still wanted me alive, even as I lay bare every problem and feeling I was having. They wanted me alive.
Dear everyone, including myself: We deserve to be alive. We have the right to self-directed services and whatever works best for us. We deserve to be alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.

Evidence suggests that there is an increase in suicides following media reports of suicide, which is frequently referred to as copycat behaviour or as the Werther effect… The risk is thought to depend not only on reader characteristics,2,3 but also on media content. 35 


While the author of a certain xoJane article did not report the person’s death as a suicide, she left open the implication with a “supposedly” and the method of “supposed” death. She wrote an article that openly told us what we should do and tried to tell us how much she thought our lives were worth. It was a grim reminder of some people’s mindsets, but we do not have to bow to her desires.
With that knowledge, writers, know you are writing about people who deserved to be alive, and your audience are people who deserve to be alive, and your audience includes people who may already be prone to suicidal ideation. You are responsible for encouraging us to die if you write a sensationalized drama with explicit details. That is not a thing to take lightly or relish. It is a thing to make you hold yourselves accountable in your writing.
Dear everyone, including myself: We deserve to be alive. We have the right to self-directed services and whatever works best for us. We deserve to be alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.
What do we do instead? What do I do instead? My friend wrote on how to talk about suicide, and about taking care of ourselves and each other in advocacy-based communities, which see a lot of burnout and stress. We should demand that people write more responsibly, as per what my friend gathered information on. We should take care of each other when they don’t. I will try to stop writing so much about things when I’m off work. We should set healthy boundaries for each other but still show support.  

And writers should stop writing sensationalized dramas about mental illness, regardless of whether it’s about suicide. Writers of all kinds, this applies to you. These are our stories and our lives, and we want them respected by all, not showcased as some kind warning story, some kind of pity-narrative, some kind of revenge-story, some kind of sensationalized odd horror feature story. You can hurt people. Take some accountability. 
Dear everyone, including myself: We deserve to be alive. We have the right to self-directed services and whatever works best for us. We deserve to be alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.

People with Mental Illness Deserve to be Alive

Originally published on Medium

XoJane recently published an article about someone with schizoaffective disorder’s death being a blessing. Outrage ensued. The author’s name became anonymous. The editors of xoJane, at least temporarily, locked their Twitter profiles, then released this apology:

Screencap of: “I apologize for an article that was posted here yesterday, entitled “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing.” I deeply regret the hurt that this article has caused and understand that it has perpetuated stigma and diminished the lives of people with mental illness. I am committed to immediately reviewing our vetting process to ensure that this experience has a positive influence on the ways in which we at xoJane present all women going forward. I appreciate all of you who took the time to let us know how you felt about this issue.”

I will not link to the archived version of the article right now. I would like to focus on what happens when you write about these topics like that. When you write that it’s better that people with mental health needs — especially people with particularly shunned diagnoses — die, this is what I know about you: I do not trust you with anyone. And I do not trust anyone who would post such a thing. I do not know the motivation of an editor allowing it to be posted. There are a multitude of reasons people have suggested, most of them related to increasing page hits and profit. A lot of people already think our lives have no value. They will continue to visit the page. Or, people outside the disability rights/mental health communities will not hear about it.

What happens when you write this way is a lot. It first of all tells people with mental illness — and again especially those with more shunned diagnoses — that people think we’re better off dead. It confirms some of our worst fears, our darkest, deepest worries. I do not think there is any data on this, but I suspect this way of writing about us encourages people to kill themselves.

It also presumes to know what the person with mental illness would have wanted. It presumes that we always think of ourselves as shells, better off dead, and that our suffering will always outweigh our right and desire to live. And indeed, some of us do feel that we are suffering a lot, and/or have suicidal ideation. I spent time in a hospital this January to prevent a suicide attempt! But writing that you know they’d be happy with the way they died and that being dead is better for them perpetuates in a very active way negative self-value and more fear and more, “Well, no one will miss me if I die.”

Then, it reinforces the narrative to other people, casual readers, that we are miserable, soulless unpeople. That with how uncomfortable we make people, we ought to be dead. Like I’ve mentioned in other pieces, we are at best inconvenient and uncomfortable to people. People are allowed to be uncomfortable with actions and statements, and assert boundaries — I have said awkward things to people in episodes of my cyclical mental illness and done my share of sometimes screwing up — but to capitalize off it and further the idea that we’re inherently bad and wrong and unpeople is unethical.