Foreign Relations & International Law

Chatter: Manic Depression and Crisis Leadership with Nassir Ghaemi

David Priess, Nassir Ghaemi
Thursday, October 12, 2023, 9:00 AM
Is the conventional wisdom that countries should not be run by those suffering from mental illness right?

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Conventional wisdom has long held that countries, and even businesses, should not be run by those suffering from mental illness, especially during times of war or other dramatic challenges. Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, Director of the Mood Disorder Program at Tufts Medical Center and Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, disputes this notion. In his book A First-Rate Madness and other writings, he lays out a compelling case that in times of crisis, we are actually better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones.

David Priess and Nassir talked about the challenges (and surprising advantages) of assessing the mental illnesses of historical figures; the lingering impact of Freudian psychoanalysis within the psychiatric community; why the best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the differences between mental illness and extreme personality; the indicators of manic depression; the cases of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, William Sherman, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Adolf Hitler; enduring stigmas associated with mental illness; Nassir's father's political activism and its influence on his son; the American Psychiatric Association's "Goldwater Rule" against offering a professional psychiatric opinion without a patient examination and proper authorization; and more.

Among the works mentioned in this episode:

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

David Priess is Director of Intelligence at Bedrock Learning, Inc. and a Senior Fellow at the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. He served during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations as a CIA officer and has written two books: “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about the top-secret President’s Daily Brief, and "How To Get Rid of a President," describing the ways American presidents have left office.
Nassir Ghaemi is an academic psychiatrist, author, and Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

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