Health & Fitness

Tell-tale signs that one may be mentally unfit

Former Uganda dictator Idi Amin. FILE PHTO | NMG
Former Uganda dictator Idi Amin. FILE PHTO | NMG 

“How regularly should one be checked for mental ailments? The world has become a fast place to live in and I see many colleagues running into psychiatric problems, which I would wish to avoid”

You have asked what on the surface seems to be an easy question, but which in the real sense is a very deep and almost disturbing issue.

President Trump is thought by some leading psychiatrists in the US to be suffering from some form or other of mental illness. A number of experts have gone as far as suggesting that the so-called 25th Amendment of the American Constitution should be put to place.

This move would have the effect of replacing Trump with the vice- president on account of the fact that the president is incapable of discharging the duties of his office. This legal provision has not been given effect in American history although both Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were believed to have suffered from mental illness while in office.

Closer home, former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is thought by many to have suffered from a delusional disorder. Some of his more bizarre moments were captured on camera when he got a number of white people to carry him in representation of “the white man’s burden”.

Idi Amin is reported (Newsweek) to have stated “sometimes people mistake the way I talk for what I am thinking”. Sounds like Trump, some people say. Other quotable quotes by Amin include statements such as; “There is freedom of speech but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech”. Recently, President Trump described himself in a tweet as a “brilliant genius who won the presidency on his first attempt and who was a most popular TV star”. For his part, Idi Amin had the following to say of himself, “The problem with me is that I am 50 or 100 years ahead of my time. My speed is very fast”.

Grandiosity is a common symptom of mental illness. It is defined as an unrealistic sense of superiority; a sustained view of oneself as better than others… as well as a sense of uniqueness. Of himself Idi Amin had the following to state, “I do not want to be controlled by any super power. I myself consider myself the most powerful figure in the world, and that is why I do not let any super power control me”. Trump had a similar view of himself beyond being a “very stable genius”.

His other two distinguishing characteristics are his “mental stability and being, like really smart” In a well-publicised spat between Trump and North Korea, Trump tweeted about having a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-Un, an opinion considered by North Korea as the “spasm of a lunatic”.

Coming back to your question, then, does President Trump and his fellow president (now deceased) Amin qualify for a diagnosis of a psychiatric illness? If they do, what symptoms do they have in common, and most importantly, what is the extent of their inability to discharge the duties of office.

Even as you ponder the fate of presidents past and present, it might be worth your while to remember that not only are all manner of psychiatric disorders very common, they are also treatable in many cases.

The other point worth making is that psychiatric illnesses exist along a very broad spectrum and a diagnosis of say depression, anxiety or even schizophrenia does not tell us much about what the patient can or cannot do.

There are for example, millions of people who have been diagnosed with depression and who continue to work as doctors, teachers, judges and politicians. If a diagnosis is made on the basis of lack of sleep, irritability, low self-esteem, lack of energy and poor concentration accompanied by episodes of tearfulness, one can still function as an engineer or accountant, though with some difficulty.

In a study conducted in Kenya a few years ago, about 11 per cent of people living in the community and seeming to be normal were diagnosed with common mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rather than try to run away from mental illness, it might be wiser to get to understand the nature of this growing public health challenge which not only causes a major burden on health care delivery in general, but also finds expression in road accidents, poor school performance, crime, family strife and some believe, social and political upheaval.