Mental Health Matters: At risk of catching ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’
May 7, 2017
I like to think of myself as even-tempered, not readily given to fits of pique or anger. So, I never thought I might be afflicted with the new pandemic disease, Trump Derangement Syndrome, a disorder, which in its later stages, is characterized by hatred of President Trump so intense as to impair judgment.
It is true that I have developed what may be some of the very early symptoms of the disorder; I've had a spat of bad dreams, one in which America erects a "beautiful" wall 1,000 feet high around the entirety of the United States.
And another, in which a madman in North Korea tests one too many missiles causing President Trump to "teach them a lesson" by bombing one of their missile sites, leading to World War III and the world's first and only nuclear winter.
But, I swear, that was it. Certainly, I have shown no evidence of demonizing the man or raging as his inconsistent, ignorant, and contradictory decision-making.
Until recently, prompted by a movie and part of the president's budget priorities.
The movie is "The Man Who Knew Infinity," an informative and entertaining story about one of the world's singularly brilliant and original mathematicians, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) of India, a genius who lived all to briefly. His theories about the universe are still being tested today, including his intuition about black holes in deep space, a concept unknown in his time.
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Tragically, Ramanujan died when he was 32, of tuberculosis, long before the "medical miracle" of antibiotics. Of course, the discoveries of both the causes of tuberculosis and its life-saving antibiotic treatment were not "miracles" at all, but the result of basic and then applied science.
Before antibiotics, tuberculosis was arguably the biggest killer of man. To cite just one salient statistic, in the 19th century tuberculosis killed one in four Europeans.
Presently, some 9 million people a year develop tuberculosis, and 1.5 million die; 95 percent of the deaths occur in the developing world where the scientifically proven conditions leading to tuberculosis are numerous, and scientifically proven treatment is well known but generally not made available.
Antibiotics are just one of the "miracles" of modern science. The evidence-based treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness and substance abuse, virtually all that ails us, is grounded first in basic science, and then in applied science.
It is science that teaches us that exercise prolongs life span, and that reducing trans fat in the diet reduces the incidence of heart attacks and strokes.
Way back in the 1980s, almost everyone believed that ulcers were caused by spicy foods or psychological stress. Then two scientists discovered that most ulcers were caused by a bacterium, leading to a revolution in ulcer treatment.
A more recent example of basic science and applied research is the discovery that the brains of young adults continue to develop into their mid-20s. This research, in an evidence-based polity, should inform medical care, public policy, and criminal law. But, too often, it doesn't.
Environmental science is no different. Clean streams and water are not accidents of nature. Polluted air doesn't just happen. Species extinction isn't just bad luck. Rising sea levels have predictable results. In disregarding the findings of the environmental sciences we place people and the planet in harms way.
I tend to forget that most people don't appreciate the laws of nature, or the findings of scientific research and how they shape the world; cellphones and self-driving cars are made possible by science, not just clever people.
Most of us don't take to math and the sciences as kids or grasp their importance. Fewer still come to understand or appreciate the scientific method and the power of science to change the world.
This ignorance tends to breed first disrespect, and then dismissal. Which is what happens to many of us when scientific research is discussed. To which I will add, in the spirit of full disclosure, when I was young I disliked and disrespected poetry, great literature, and religion. These deficiencies, I later realized, were a reflection of my ignorance.
When a president of the United States has no understanding of science, no faith in the findings of science, and no faith in the accumulated knowledge that science provides, we are in trouble.
When President Trump works to drastically decrease funding for scientific research, and for the Environmental Protection Agency, we should all tremble. And that's why I'm at increasing risk of developing Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.