Labour: Love all the marginalised

Recent events in the United States have been abominable and give great cause for alarm and concern. However, in our justified anger and well-intentioned desire to support one marginalised group, we must always make doubly sure that we do not end up stigmatising another.

We live in exceptional times. Recent global events, sometimes framed through the lens of fake news, have changed the whole concept of what is ‘Normal’ and what is ‘Extraordinary’. It’s at times like these that those in the public eye have a duty to comment, but it is also at these times that they must choose their words most carefully. I shall focus on race equality and mental health. In focusing on more than one marginalised or vulnerable group, it is important to bear in mind that it is possible for a person to belong to more than one such group.

 Last Wednesday Mehdi Hassan, a self-confessed "lefty", described Donald Trump as a "Madman" whilst commenting on his diplomatic spat with North Korea. Last Saturday, commenting on Trump’s misdirected response to events in Charlottesville, Hassan tweeted that Trump should be committed to a "psychiatric unit". This is reminiscent of comments Ken Livingstone made regarding Kevan Jones MP in a spat over Trident, in which Livingstone said “I think he [Jones] might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed”.

 Hassan and Livingstone have no formal qualifications in psychiatry, but Hassan has – worryingly – used public statements by a number of American psychiatric professionals, many of them eminent, to support his stigmatising language. On North Korea, Hassan cited a February 2017 New York Times letter signed by 35 psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers stating that the US President exhibits “grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions [which] makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” Hassan also cited a special session at a Yale Medical School conference in April 2017 at which many psychological professionals psychoanalysed Trump, and stated that he is unfit to govern.

 In signing the New York Times letter, the 35 professionals freely admit to contravening what is known as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 'Goldwater Rule'. This rule unequivocally states that “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination [of the patient]”. The Goldwater Rule was enacted in the early 1970s after 2,400 psychiatrists answered a survey assessing the psychological fitness of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. 49% stated that Goldwater was unfit to be President.

 If a UK-based psychiatrist were to make similar comments about Theresa May, they would be in contravention of General Medical Council statutes. Likewise, a clinical psychologist would be in contravention of British Psychological Society (BPS) guidelines. It is a great credit to both BPS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists that the recent past Presidents of both organisations – Prof. Peter Kinderman and Prof. Sir Simon Wessely – have condemned the approach taken by some professionals in the United States, and have effectively upheld the Goldwater Rule. Hopefully this will ensure that no UK politician will ever be subjected to such an unseemly trial by a British psychological professional.

 American psychiatric professionals who criticise Trump do so from the standpoint of disagreeing with his policies, his conduct, and his actions; that is reasonable. Their reaction is anything but reasonable and they risk seriously undermining confidence in their profession, and compromising their therapeutic relationship with service users. These professionals also risk providing succour to Trump’s supporters who, already having the fuel of fake news, can cite many eminent professionals behaving unprofessionally and using their ‘Expert’ status to undermine the President.

In using such archaic and stigmatising language on mental health: Mehdi Hassan is doing no harm to Donald Trump and, like the psychological professionals, may just und up reinforcing his support. Instead Hassan is taking direct aim at the estimated 1 in 6 of the adult UK population who meet the criteria for a psychological disorder, and the many more people who comprise their friends and loved ones. This is precisely what Dr Oquendo warned of in her August 2016 statement: “Simply put, breaking the Goldwater Rule is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.”

 Collectively, we on the left have an absolute moral responsibility to ensure that we facilitate equal representation and parity of esteem for all groups at all times, not merely in our words but also in our actions. At the Labour Campaign for Mental Health’s Inaugural Conference in January, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan gave an impassioned speech in which she stated that seeing mental health inequalities first-hand as an A&E doctor made her want to become an MP. She stated that "We [in Labour] take what we live and try and run with those experiences to make a change for others." Indeed we do.

Recent events in the United States have been abominable and give great cause for alarm and concern. However, in our justified anger and well-intentioned desire to support one marginalised group, we must always make doubly sure that we do not end up stigmatising another.

 

Michael Crouch is a young Fabians member. He is a Governor of the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, within its Service User and Carer Constituency. He is also a member of the British Psychological Society and an Appointed Committee Member to its North-West England Branch. He is also a Fellow of the Geological Society of London.

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