Distance diagnostics

Interesting post over on Mindhacks about “celebrity analysis,” or the practice of diagnosing from afar the state of mind or mental issues of people in the spotlight. The post covers some interesting history about how those professional standards arose.

I’ve come across this in my job as an editorial page editor — a columnist wanted to argue that a certain public official was a sociopath — and argued against it. If mental health professionals are discouraged from doing it, how much more so should we have safeguards against the average journalist making those assessments? Even more egregiously, those diagnoses are conducted based on the flimsiest of familiarities, without any personal, intimate knowledge of the diagnosee.

Horrifying. And, in my opinion, potentially libelous, like referring to someone as “crazy” in print. And we all want to avoid a defamation lawsuit.

Frankly, the field of psychiatry is deeply complex, often defies common sense and isn’t easily encapsulated by know-nothing laymen with access to a search field on WebMD.com and a copy of the DSM V. Those without the proper training in mental health shouldn’t be making diagnoses any more than a journalist should do brain surgery.

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