School of Medicine psychiatrist Bandy Lee MED ’94 DIV ’95 visited Washington, D.C. last month to brief lawmakers on President Donald Trump’s mental state.
On Dec. 5 and 6, Lee met with more than a dozen congressmen, including one Republican senator, Politico reported. In her presentation, Lee relied on the assessments of 27 mental health professionals, compiled in the book she edited, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” Though she could not diagnose Trump without a formal evaluation, she said, Trump’s recent behavior shows that he may be a danger to the American public.
“Under stress he has shown that he goes into attack mode and seems to resort to violence at times of feeling threatened or feeling powerless in some way,” she said in an interview with the News. “He uses violence to burnish his sense of power, and that is [mental health professionals’] great concern.”
Lee, a faculty member in the Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division, specializes in global health and violence. She has worked as a consultant to governments in Ireland, France, California, Connecticut and other states on violence prevention.
Beyond her book, Lee has advocated for Congress to conduct a mental evaluation of the president. In a November letter to the editor published in the New York Times, she argued that Trump’s access to weapons and his volatility, unpredictability and predisposition toward violence put the world “at extreme risk of danger.”
Last April, Lee hosted an ethics conference at the School of Medicine, at which mental health professionals discussed whether psychiatrists should ever warn the public about the mental state of a public figure. Discussion also touched explicitly on Trump. After the conference, several congressmen independently reached out to Lee. One former congressman even arranged for Lee to testify in front of Congress, but the testimony was continually postponed without cause, she told the News. Lee said that her speech in front of Congress now seems less and less feasible.
After a group of mental health professionals formed to discuss the potential public health danger of Trump’s mental state, a former assistant U.S. attorney arranged for the group to meet with her personal contacts in Congress. Another psychiatrist, James Gilligan, joined Lee in Washington on the second day of the conference to discuss their mutual concern.
Lee said that during the meeting, congressmen interrupted her and Gilligan to say that they needed no convincing but could not act with a Republican-majority Congress.
For months, several members of Congress have questioned whether Trump’s mental state could be grounds to invoke the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” The provision allows for the removal of a president from office if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet determine that the president is mentally or physically unable to carry out the duties of office.
Legal experts’ questions about Trump’s fitness for office recently resurfaced when, in a Jan. 2 tweet responding to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day address, the president boasted that his nuclear button is “much bigger” than Kim’s.
Lee and two other medical professionals, representing the National Coalition of Concerned Mental Health Experts, released a statement citing Trump’s comments as evidence for his mental “unraveling.” They urged Congress to pass legislation restraining Trump in an effort to avoid a “nuclear catastrophe.”
Later this month, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, will host Lee for a briefing with dozens of congressmen. And U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland — who proposed a commission to evaluate Trump’s capacity to serve as president — invited the psychiatrist to speak at his town hall meeting.
Beyond the realm of politics, Lee’s psychoanalysis of Trump in her book and her briefing to Congress have stirred controversy in psychiatric circles, with former president of the American Psychiatric Association and Columbia professor of psychiatry Jeffrey Lieberman calling the book “awdry, indulgent, fatuous, tabloid psychiatry.” Recent guidelines published by the APA discourage psychiatrists from offering professional opinions about the mental state of someone without personally evaluating them, making Lee’s presentation on Trump’s mental state highly unusual.
In an interview with the News, Lee argued that she was not breaking the Goldwater Rule — an APA guideline that states it is unethical for a psychiatrist to give public opinion about a public figure’s mental state without the individual’s consent or without in-person consultation — given that she is not diagnosing the president. Rather, she said, she is speaking to Trump’s “dangerousness,” which can be remotely evaluated based on the “situation.” She added that she and her fellow psychiatrists were “ethically charged” with speaking out in the interest of public health.
When asked whether she thought that she and her colleagues were politicizing mental illness, she responded that thousands of mental health professionals across the political spectrum have reached a consensus that Trump is dangerous. She said that she has not encountered a mental health professional who disagrees or can be certain that Trump is not dangerous.
University spokeswoman Karen Peart declined to comment on Lee’s psychoanalysis of the president.
“The University does not take positions or issue statements regarding the health or medical condition of public officials,” Peart said in a statement to the News. “However, the University will not interfere with the free expression or academic freedom of faculty members who wish to express their opinions in their areas of expertise or otherwise. Dr. Lee’s position and opinions are her own and do not represent the views of the University.”
Two days after the news broke of Lee’s meeting in Washington, Trump took to Twitter to defend his “mental stability,” calling himself a “very stable genius.” Lee said these remarks were “concerning” but not surprising, as she and her colleagues had predicted the president would unravel with further stress.
Seventy at the time of his inauguration, Trump is the oldest U.S. president ever elected to a first term in office.
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