Health & Fitness

You can achieve greatness despite mental disorder

President Trump has been described as  a delusional narcissist. PHOTO | AFP
President Trump has been described as a delusional narcissist. PHOTO | AFP 

I see several people obsessed with expensive gadgets even when they serve no meaningful role in their lives. Is this a mental problem?

Both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have very clear guidelines and definitions of what is and what is not a mental illness.

The process of defining and describing of the various categories of mental disorders is one of the most rigorous exercises that mental health experts go into every few decades. The first such attempt at bringing order to classification in America was in 1952, and the latest version referred to as DSM 5 was published on May 18, 2013. The WHO uses the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Neither of the two classification methods includes a disorder on the use of expensive gadgets as one of the mental disorders. The simple answer to your fairly simple question is therefore, NO.

As you must know, it is often the simple questions that lead to some of the most complex of thought ideas.


The first thought that comes to mind from your question is the current state of mental well being of President Donald Trump. More than any other president in recent times, many lay and some mental health experts hold the view that Mr Trump is mentally unstable.

He has been described as a delusional narcissist who freely mixes lies and half truths to make his point even when he knows he is wrong.

In a book titled The Dangerous case of Donald Trump, 27 psychiatrists and other health experts make an assessment of their President. The book is a New York Times best seller.

Mental health experts are prohibited from making a diagnosis on patients they have not personally examined. In Kenya for example, there are many people in public life who clearly seem to show features of mental disorders, but have not been submitted for mental assessment. All we in the mental health field can do is wait until such politicians are brought to us by their families or friends.

Sadly for many, the so called Goldwater rule applies and we must all watch in horrified silence as some outrageous events unfold. This rule arose in 1964 when psychiatrists polled about the mental health of Senator Barry Goldwater found that 1,189 of them declared that he was (like Trump in the eyes of some) unfit to be president!

The American Psychiatrist Association subsequently declared it unethical to offer an opinion on the mental health of a public figure, one they had not examined.

The American authors decided to break this rule and decided to warn Americans and the world about their president. They considered it their moral and civic duty “to warn” as in their view, their duty to society supersedes their professional neutrality.

Their conclusion is that their subject is a “dangerously complex mad man”. They find that he has “a lack of trust that exceeds paranoia”. His impulsivity is described as “unbridled and extreme present hedonism”.

Many other opinions on Trump and his mental health have been offered by many others, but the man continues to tweet away as President. As long as he has not been examined and found to be mentally ill, then he is presumed to be fit for office.

This now brings us to another, even more complex subject of the meaning and significance of a diagnosis of a mental illness.

Until 1972 for example, homosexuality was a disease as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the USA. When it was by consensus removed from the list of diseases, it stopped being a mental affliction.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare was depressed when he wrote “King Lear”. The other iconic figure to have lived with depression is the famous artist Van Gough. There is no doubt that Sir Winston Churchill had a Bipolar Mood disorder while in the office of prime minister.

The famous mathematician John Nash won the Nobel Peace Prize with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Many other examples of successful men and women in Kenya living with Schizophrenia are evident, if only psychiatrists could be allowed to speak out!

A diagnosis of a mental illness is not of itself a condemnation of any sort. There are many people with mental disorders who have achieved greatness. Many people without mental disorders lead tragic and mediocre lives!