Many have speculated on the mental health of President Donald Trump, especially in recent days as the impeachment inquiry heats up and more whistleblowers come about alleging wrongdoing on his part.
Trump’s actions and statements right now are under microscope — and so far, it doesn’t look good to the American people. He appears at times to be paranoid, angry, and threatening. A quick sampling of the 30-or-more tweets he issues out every day showcases dark impulses, including accusations of treason from the president toward those who want to hold him to account.
That’s not ordinary, to say the least. But this sort of behavior is precisely what one forensic psychologist predicted would happen.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a researcher and professor at Yale who specializes in the study of violence, among other things. Among several other topics, we discussed what was then the most important issue facing Trump at the time: the Mueller investigation, and his reaction to it.
While Trump had his attention on Mueller and others that threatened his presidency, sending out tweets daily trying to discredit their work, Lee said that, later in the year, we could expect to see much worse from the president, and with it, more worrisome decisionmaking from him.
“We can only expect the dangerousness to worsen and accelerate,” Lee said to me in January.
One way we could avoid future presidents from being like Trump, she added, was to have mental fitness screenings for candidates for office — and to reguarly continue them after a winner is decided.
“The fact that military officials, and particularly those who handle nuclear weapons, undergo meticulous fitness-for-duty exams before they ever take their job, I think at least the same should be applied to presidential and vice presidential candidates, with yearly follow-up,” Lee said.
Her ideals are shared by another individual, Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang. Although he’s considered a longshot for the nomination, many of the views he has expressed on the campaign trail have been embraced by some of the electorate.
One that deserves special consideration is the idea of a presidential psychologist who works with the commander-in-chief regularly in the White House.
Being President of the United States is a tough job. Having a psychologist in the White House will not only be an invaluable asset for functioning leadership, but also destigmatize mental health issues and emphasize the importance of seeking care.
Posted by Andrew Yang for President 2020 on Thursday, July 25, 2019
“We should have a psychologist in the White House that’s looking in on the mental health of the executive branch, because it doesn’t make any sense to me to have that much power and responsibility without some sort of mental health professional monitoring,” Yang said in an interview in April.
He futher explained that having a role in the executive residence would benefit Americans, too.
“I think it would also help destigmatize mental health issues and anxiety and depression around the country. And just say, look, we all have struggles — that includes people at the top of government,” Yang added.
It’s hard to argue against the idea, in a general sense. Having someone pay close attention to the president’s mental health, in a proactive, positive way, is something we all could stand to benefit from. The individual charged with the task shouldn’t be given too much power or be partisan, nor should they break with patient confidentiality standards except in extreme circumstances. But a White House psychologist would definitely be handy, especially in times like these.
Trump has exposed fissures in our government that need addressing. This topic, too, needs to be addressed — a president who exhibits clear paranoia and a penchant for embracing conspiracy theories, like Trump, might do well to have someone to talk to about their own mental wellbeing. Even if he weren’t president, the idea of a presidential psychologist has merit.