SASSO & SASSO: It’s not about mental illness

February 9, 2018

viewpoint-sasso-dennis-sandy.jpgThere has been much talk about mental illness and the White House. It has been argued that the president is unfit to hold his office because he suffers from a psychiatric illness. This argument is a distraction and renders a disservice to people who seek mental health treatment. There are those with mental illness who are doctors and lawyers, professors and teachers, care givers and business leaders, construction workers and farmers. They discover cures for illnesses, compose beautiful music, write compelling poetry, guide our children, build our homes, and grow our food.

The president was just recently given a clean bill of health by the White House physician. He was declared of sound body and mind. But the report tells us nothing about the condition of heart—that is, his moral fiber.

Let us not insult those with mental illness. We do not need a psychiatrist to tell us what is already clear: The messages and behaviors emanating from the White House are not signs of mental breakdown; they are a breakdown of trust and dignity.

To make disparaging comments about immigrants from countries whose majority population is not white is not crazy; it is bigoted. To say a white supremacist rally has some “fine people” is not delusional; it is racist. To advocate for an immigration ban targeting Muslim countries is not paranoia; it is Islamophobia.

To tweet a six-pointed star alongside a pile of cash is not insane; it is anti-Semitic. To utter defamatory statements and then deny them when they become problematic is not dementia; it is lying. To imagine sizes of crowds, contrary to all evidence, is not hallucinatory; it is self-absorbed.

Misogyny, homophobia and racism are not manifestations of emotional disorder; they are discriminatory and narrow-minded expressions unbefitting public officials. An insanity defense is not required to know that foul and derogatory language is unacceptable.

We should expect civility, respect and honor of human dignity from our leaders. Let us not excuse the prejudice and outbursts of intolerance we see coming from the White House by assigning it to a medical diagnosis. Let us not insult those who live with and work to overcome mental illness by conflating their struggles with selfishness, intolerance and vitriol.

These concerns are not about being liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. It is time for politicians and pundits to stop the excuses. We know the words we hear; we understand what they mean. To challenge acrimonious language and call out vindictive behavior is not partisan; it is patriotic. Those who would be silent are complicit.

Values of human decency, integrity, trust and honor are the very body, mind and heart of leadership and citizenship. No psychiatrist is necessary to know their absence.•


Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Dennis C. Sasso are rabbis in Indianapolis. They wrote this column with their son David A. Sasso, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist in New Haven, Connecticut.

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