Fetterman’s depression disclosure prompts new crackdown on mental health

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Lynn Rivers, a Democrat from Michigan, opened up about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder during a radio call-in show when she first ran for Congress. His detractors were indicating that he had mental health problems. He decided, in the spur of the moment, to let it all out.

“At the end, I just said, ‘Are you asking me if I have depression? Yes, and so do thousands and millions of other people,'” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Okay, here we are. Let’s go The ball is thrown at you, just hit it.’ And so I did.

That was 1994. Ms. Rivers was elected despite a Republican tidal wave, and served four terms.

Now another Democrat, Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, has announced that he has entered the hospital for treatment for clinical depression. Leaders of both the parties are praising him for his openness. Mental health experts say she is a powerful symbol – especially for men, who are less likely to seek treatment for depression and suffer higher rates of suicide.

Yet stigma about mental illness remains strong – especially in politics, where questions about temperament can determine a candidate’s electability. Mr. Fetterman and others face an ongoing challenge: How much do they really want to say?

“We have come a long way; Political scion of the Kennedy family Patrick J. People are willing to say whether he has been diagnosed or is in treatment, said Kennedy, who disclosed his treatment for bipolar disorder and drug abuse when he was a congressman from the road. island. “But we’re still not at a place where people are comfortable saying much more than that. And really the question with Senator Fetterman is: How much is he going to disclose?”

Clinical depression, also known as major depression, is a severe form of the disease. Symptoms may include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or guilt; outbursts of anger; loss of pleasure in normal activities; Tiredness; Worry; reduced appetite; and thoughts of suicide. In recent years, great progress has been made in treatment.

So far, Mr. Fetterman’s staff has not been publicly forthcoming about his symptoms or his treatment. Announcing Thursday that he had admitted himself to Walter Reed National Military Medical Army Center, the senator’s office said he had suffered from depression throughout his life, but that it had only become severe in recent weeks.

Mr. Fetterman, a freshman, has had difficulty adjusting to Senate life. He is also a stroke survivor who requires significant accommodations, including closed captioning devices, in order to communicate. Experts say that about one-third of people who are victims of stroke are also victims of depression.

“After a stroke, people inevitably — and I think Senator Fetterman is an example of this — have to adapt to a new life, especially if there is an impairment,” said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum at Columbia University and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. “It can be difficult, and may be a contributor to the incidence of depression.”

Mr Fetterman is not the first Washington politician – or even the first member of the Senate – to speak openly about mental health struggles.

Senator Tina Smith, 64 and a Democrat from Minnesota, shared her diagnosis of depression in a speech on the Senate floor in 2019, seeking care as a college student, and then as a young mother. Two House Democrats — Representatives Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, both Iraq War veterans — have called for treatment for PTSD.

But it can be tough, even today. Mr Moulton served for six years before speaking about his experience. Mr. Gallego disclosed his treatment early in his career in Congress when a reporter asked about it. He said critics on social media still bother him.

“They accused me of being a child murderer in Iraq, and therefore I have PTSD because of the crime,” he said. “People have said that my PTSD is fueled by anger, and that I can’t trust the government. They’ve certainly tried to weaponize it.”

Older Americans remember well the experience of Thomas Eagleton, who was forced to withdraw as George McGovern’s running mate in 1972 after being hospitalized for depression and treated with electroconvulsive therapy.

Social scientists say there is evidence that the public is becoming more accepting of people with depression. Bernice Pescosolido, a professor of sociology at Indiana University and principal investigator of the National Stigma Study, which tracks public attitudes toward mental illness, said the change in public sentiment has been “dramatic,” but it only goes so far. Is.

Dr Pescosolido’s research shows that between 1996 and 2006, people’s attitudes about the causes of depression changed significantly, with more people viewing it as “a disease rather than a moral failure”. But there was no change in stigma, as measured by people’s willingness to associate with depressed people, such as marrying into the family of a depressed person.

However, between 2006 and 2018 there was a significant drop in stigma towards people with depression. During that time, he said, advocates changed tactics. She said that instead of comparing mental illness to physical illness, she started encouraging people to talk about their experiences.

“The narrative change meant that more people were talking about it and sharing about it,” she said. “I think there is no better example than people like Fetterman.”

Political strategists in both parties say that if Mr. Fetterman recovers and can serve as a senator, his future in politics will not be at a loss.

Democratic strategist David Axelrod said, “I don’t think the fact of having depression or dealing with mental illness will hinder his career.” “But if people are led to believe that he has a disability that would prevent him from doing his job, that’s a different matter.”

Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, agreed, saying, “It’s all about whether he’s capable of doing the job he was elected to do.”

Herschel Walker, a Republican candidate who often spoke about his struggles with mental illness, lost his bid for the Senate in Georgia. But Mr Walker, who insisted he had “overcome” what is known as dissociative personality disorder, also faced other hurdles, including allegations that he arranged abortions for two girlfriends. (He was running as anti-abortion).

For years in politics, candidates took pains to hide their struggles with mental health. Ms. Rivers, who came out through Michigan’s state legislature, recalled elected officials who “would prefer to be thought of as alcoholics, because that was more socially acceptable.”

Employees become adept at hiding evidence and providing alternative explanations for officers being hospitalized for mental illness. And public figures learned to hide themselves.

Robert A. Antonioni, who served for 20 years in the Massachusetts State Legislature, used to dress unusually in shorts and a baseball cap and drive about 20 miles to another town to pick up a prescription for antidepressants.

“I thought, I know the people in my town, and the people at CVS, they’d be like, ‘Bob was picking up his Zoloft here today,'” he said. “The psychiatrist who prescribed it to me said, ‘Bob, there are a lot of people who take this.'”

Mr. Antonioni began to speak openly about his depression in 2003, when a newspaper reporter asked why he was working on suicide prevention. He told the reporter about his younger brother, who had died by suicide, but became discouraged when she asked if he had ever had similar thoughts. He hung up the phone, but thought better of it, and called her back.

“Eventually, I thought, ‘I’m not being honest,'” he said. “I remember the reporter saying, ‘You know, this is going to be in the paper, Bob.'”

Mr. Kennedy, now a leading advocate for mental health treatment, said he was “outed” in 1991 during his first term as a state representative when someone who had been dealing with substance abuse He was undergoing treatment for diabetes, sold his story to The National Enquirer. , He survived re-election and won his House seat in 1994, the same year as Ms. Rivers.

In 2000, when another woman, Tipper Gore, came to Rhode Island to campaign for him, he stood on a podium with her and told her constituents about her bipolar disorder. It was an unplanned announcement.

“I was still very reticent to say much about it,” Mr. Kennedy said. “And even when I spoke out, I was trying to be very calculating—disclose only as much as I thought I could live with politically.”

The fear then was to be seen as weak, or fundamentally flawed.

Mr Moulton said he shared his diagnosis with just one or two close advisers. His advice to them? “Better don’t talk about it.”

On Thursday, after Mr. Fetterman’s office announced his hospitalization, Mr. Gallego took to Twitter. “It’s never a weakness to ask for help” He wrote, Joining his message with two emoji showing flexed biceps.

Depression is a very personal illness that will affect approximately one in five Americans during their lifetime, Dr. Appelbaum said. Some people have one episode, receive treatment, and move on. Some people may have recurring episodes.

The first treatment usually consists of a combination of medication and psychotherapy—often cognitive behavioral therapy, in which patients learn to control their thoughts. If that doesn’t work, there are more invasive treatments. Studies show that electroconvulsive therapy, which involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia, is effective in between 80 and 90 percent of patients, Dr. Appelbaum said.

Some executives who have spoken openly about their experiences with mental illness say that they have found freedom from it.

Ms Smith, the senator, said she decided to go public after the topic came up in discussions with senior staff members, and she realized how rare it was for politicians to describe this part of their lives.

“I had the power to tell that story,” she said.

Speaking out also gives politicians control over their own narrative, enabling them to choose the timing and outlets of disclosure. In 2019, while preparing for a brief presidential run, Mr. Moulton revealed in a speech that he had consulted a therapist for PTSD.

“I thought there was a good chance it would end my career,” he said. Instead, he said, “To this day, people all over the country come up to me and say thank you.”

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