Yale psychiatrist on coronavirus: Trump is 'putting lives at risk'

Yale psychiatrist on coronavirus: Trump is 'putting lives at risk'
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President Trump's preoccupation with his own image amid the spread of the coronavirus is "putting lives at risk" and Vice President Pence is only "enabling" him, Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee told Salon in an interview this week.


Lee is a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who also teaches at Yale Law School and has spent the last three years urging Congress to respond more forcefully to the dangers posed by what she sees as the president's deteriorating mental health. Lee, who consults widely with state and foreign governments on public health approaches to violence prevention, urged the House Judiciary Committee to include a panel of mental health experts during Trump's impeachment and called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to request an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric hold of the president.

Some mental health experts have pushed back on Lee's comments. Dr. Amy Barnhost, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis, previously told Salon that such calls would do more harm than good. Lee argues that Congress and other government officials have enabled Trump's worst tendencies by not acknowledging the risk posed by the president's mental state.

Lee told Salon that Trump's acquittal emboldened his behavior and urged Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden to bring the issue of the president's mental health to the "forefront," arguing that Trump's response to the coronavirus epidemic is putting lives at risk.

"I have been speaking up about Donald Trump because of the psychological dangers and the medical need I see, having nothing to do with politics," she told Salon. "Consequently, I have no need to call out Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as big concerns, since for all their shortcomings they are nowhere near being a similar level of danger. I would say the exact same things about Mr. Trump if he were a Democrat — and that is how I, as a long-term New Yorker, remember him, as a libertine Democrat without morals or religion."

Lee spoke with Salon about her impressions of the president's response to the potential pandemic and what Democrats can do to counter the risks posed by Trump's actions. She specified that her views represent only those of the World Mental Health Coalition, of which she is president, and not of her academic institutions.

You've often warned of the dangers of Trump's mental health. Do you think his mental state poses a danger as he is forced to respond to the coronavirus outbreak?

I believe it is the biggest threat right now, and people are beginning to see how his distorted view of reality is putting lives at risk. His inability to respond to a real emergency because of his preoccupation with his image and his re-election prospects sent the stock market on its largest one-day plunge in history. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. From coronavirus to the climate threat to a new nuclear arms race to the southern border, he worsens every situation in more ways than we can see, such as by gutting every agency that was set up to prepare for emergencies. This is not by accident. The mind is powerful, and I fear that perhaps the greatest danger is the alternative reality he is creating for his followers — all to buttress his fragile sense of self and to hide his incompetence.

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