The Media’s Missed Opportunity


After his sterling performance at the 75th Commemoration of D-Day, the news media debated if Trump really meant what he read from the teleprompter. When asked about this, one legislator suggested Trump seemed emotionally moved by the experience.

I understand holding out hope Trump will change, just as I understand why a battered spouse keeps returning to an abuser. But to expect Trump to change after one event is like expecting a person w/ cancer to cure himself by sheer force of will. If it were that easy, Trump would have changed already.

I wish the news media understood how such untrained observations can discourage people from seeking help. Sadly, only 44% of people w/ a mental illness seek treatment. By suggesting that Trump could emotionally pivot in one day, insinuates he’s capable of change if only he tried harder. Many of my patients get accused of this, which leaves them feeling unsupported, misunderstood and inadequate. Then they start second-guessing their symptoms.

The news media’s amateur psychoanalyses also feeds the misconception anyone can be a psychologist. If reporters with no medical training regularly hypothesized about Trump’s physical health, I expect they’d be fired.

The mental health field is constantly working against stigma and minimization to reach people. Silence and misinformation lead to increased isolation which leads to increased suffering. The consequences include a rise in suicides, a drug epidemic, increased violence and irresponsible policy.

Cluster B personality disorders, which includes Malignant Narcissism, develop over years of dysfunctional rearing (and, in many cases, trauma). Naturally, it takes years of therapy to unravel the effects. At his age, Trump’s brain is hard-wired to think the way he does.

There is often a comorbid diagnosis with Personality Disorders. Some can contribute to a disorder’s formation, such as ADHD or learning disability. Others can be a byproduct, such as chronic depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

Trump’s conduct over the last two years has provided ample opportunity to explain his behavior to the public. The news media could have brought in panels of experts in mental health just as they’ve done with lawyers and security analysts. Mental health experts can differentiate between psychosis and maladaptive behavior, explain how psychiatric disorders are diagnosed and what treatments are effective with each disorder. Mental health experts need not prognosticate (even though legal consultants and security analysts do this all the time).

Rightly so, the news media takes its role of speaking truth-to-power seriously. And there’s no doubt our democracy is safer for it. But shouldn’t this include the issue most responsible for our current state of affairs: Trumps mental instability? Don’t Americans deserve this information before returning to the voting booth?

By doing so, the news media will also legitimize and destigmatize mental illness for millions of Americans.

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