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mental health mondays :: the dangers of diagnosing

when you take a look at any reputable online source of information about mental health, it comes with a warning that anything you read on the site should not be considered a substitute for evaluation by a medical professional. so why are so many people jumping on the bandwagon to diagnose donald trump?

it's not uncommon for people to make glib judgments about the mental health of others, because we think that we understand what disorders entail. when i was working in offices, i noticed a lot of this: an immature and garrulous employee being labeled and partially excused because others were certain he had adhd, or a moody and indecisive boss dismissed as bipolar. [as you can imagine, that one struck me as particularly ignorant and, since i was the audience, ironic.] but in the case of trump, even professionals are weighing in on the subject. no fewer than twenty-seven psychiatrists have collaborated on a book called the dangerous case of donald trump. up to now, it's been understood that medical professionals don't comment on the cases of people they haven't evaluated themselves, for obvious reasons. when psychiatrists appear in the media to talk about someone's mental health, it's generally to explain what a condition is, what the warning signs are, or how it's treated, and most will be quick to point out that they are not going to address questions of a particular person's mental state.

the book's authors are very conscious of the fact that they are placing their footprints on a professional moon here, but their rationale is that there comes a point where the warning signs are so abundant that it would be more irresponsible to remain silent. one doctor has even said that the president's mental state is an imminent threat to the nation.

one can also argue that the interdiction against indirect diagnosis is one that doesn't necessarily apply to the modern world, or at least that it doesn't apply to the example of someone like donald trump. after all, no one has done more to cause concern over trump's mental health than the man himself, whether it's his desperate tweets about how smart, successful and well-loved he is, or his tendency to drift aimlessly from one idea to another within the course of a single sentence. social media and the non-stop news cycle has already given us more insight into the minds of public figures than we've ever had, but trump pushes that much further; he completely rejects any idea that he should present a front that is in any way presidential, gracious, or polished. furthermore, he is incapable of remaining silent on any subject, so that we are constantly drowning in a river of sewage gushing forth from his addled brain.

the two most common diagnoses given by observers are that trump suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, or that he shows signs of dementia. he does fall, broadly speaking, into the risk group for both: narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed more frequently in men than women by a 3 to 1 margin, while his age increases his risk of dementia the same as it does for everyone. that, combined with his bizarre and very  public behavior, is enough for many to ring alarms.

these two fallback explanations for trump are very different things: some level of dementia affects between 5 and 8 percent of people over 60 worldwide, making it pretty common. although it's far more common among poorer people, it isn't something that's unknown in the white house: reagan showed marked deterioration in his second term and did indeed develop alzheimer's. [the extent of reagan's deterioration in office is still hotly debated.] the condition is degenerative and will absolutely affect trump's ability to do his job. it's something that disqualifies him from being president because there is no predicting how far or how fast it will progress, only that it will do so.

a personality disorder is something more ephemeral. it's hard to predict what will happen, how it can be treated and how it will affect the person with it. the nature of personality disorders in general isn't well understood, and it's compounded by the fact that some of them seem "gendered", being applied far more often to either men or women, depending on the exact criteria. trump's ridiculous self-aggrandizement, his seeming inability to feel empathy and his willingness to justify anything in his past do seem like the hallmarks of a narcissist. and some have been able to make a compelling case that his statements do form a roadmap of the npd checklist.

i'm not anywhere near qualified to question psychiatrists' evaluations of trump,  since they're more versed than i'll ever be. but i do have an uneasy feeling about the public desire to explain trump's "eccentricities" by saying they're caused by a mental disorder. it's not just that i get uncomfortable with the idea of non-professionals [which most of the opinion-givers are] making calls based on incomplete or flawed information. what worries me more is that, by trying to explain trump's behaviour,  we're actually excusing it.

dementia doesn't explain why trump and his father were brought up on charges for refusing to sell their properties to blacks. it doesn't explain why the man who makes such a show of adoring the military refused to serve in it. it doesn't explain why he was able to stick to a very consistent claim that president obama wasn't born in the united states.

likewise, it's easy to confuse someone who has narcissistic personality disorder with someone who is a narcissist. not every narcissist has a disorder. and, for what it's worth, one of the people involved in establishing the clinical definitions of personality disorders says that trump doesn't meet the criteria. first and foremost, his point is that suffering from a mental disorder involves... suffering. trump, on the other hand, pursues his narcissist's agenda in order to get personal rewards. people with mental disorders have a compulsion to act the way that they do. acting badly because it can generate gains is a matter of forethought.

the other danger is that we start to equate mental illness with being unable to perform jobs like that of president: ones with great power and responsibility. but even if donald trump does suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, he'd hardly be the only president to have spent time in office fighting demons. it's well-established that abraham lincoln suffered from major depression for years. no one is saying that he was unfit for the job.

if trump is unfit, it is not because he has a mental disorder, but because he is incompetent on every requirement necessary for the job. 


as long as you're here, why not read more?

presidenting is hard :: nato

oh donald, i've been slacking on my promise to help you out with your duties as president. [yes, you may take a moment to giggle at the word "duties". but make it quick.]

it's not because i think you don't need the support; you are every bit as ignorant and inept as i'd feared/ expected and the erstwhile presence of "adults in the room" hasn't made you any better. it's just as well that you've dispatched of them. you weren't listening to what they said 95% of the time and on those few occasions when you did try to listen, you didn't understand what they were saying. increasingly, we're getting to see you for the complete intellectual non-entity you are and to see how someone who knows nothing about history, geography, culture or military tactics addresses the challenges of foreign policy.

the latest development on that front is that i've heard that you're planning on leaving nato. we all know that you've never be…

making faces :: written in the stars, in lipstick [part two]

it's the middle of september already? i'm not prepared for that? i mean, i am prepared for it because the heat this summer has been murder on me and i've been begging for a reprieve for months but i'm still bowled over by the speed at which time passes. this year, i've been measuring time through the launches of bite beauty's astrology collection, which arrives like the full moon once a month. [the full moon arrives every four weeks, which is less than any month except february -ed.] earlier this year, i took a look at the first four launches of the collection and already it's time to catch up with four more.

the most important thing for you to know is that after several months of problems, bite and sephora appear to have sorted out their inventory planning. for the last several releases, information has been clear and reliable as to when and where each lipstick will be available [pre-orders taken for a couple of days on bite's own website and a general…

making faces :: written in the stars, in lipstick [part three]

and lo the earth has completed another journey 'round the sun, passing through all of the signs of the zodiac. well, in lipstick terms, it won't have completed its journey until later this month when it moves from capricorn to aquarius, which is where bite beauty chose to start its turn of the wheel last year. i still feel a little unnerved that they followed the calendar rather than the astrological year [which would have meant starting their astrology collection in march with the sign of aries] but i suspect that that's because their financials also follow the calendar.

after some truly infuriating times early in the calendar and collection year, bite was able to get their inventory issues sorted, which means that all four of the lipsticks reviewed here are still available through bite's website, sephora, or both. hallelujah.

i have some thoughts on the overall collection that i'll share afterwards, but let's just get started on the final four shades of the …