The Macomb Daily
Fetterman draws praise for getting help for depression
When Patrick Kennedy was in Congress, he would sneak in his treatments for substance abuse over the holidays, in between congressional work periods. And he refused mental health treatment recommended by his doctors, worried he would be recognized in that wing of the hospital.
Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat and the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, was eventually forced to reveal his struggles when he crashed his car outside the Capitol after taking a combination of prescription drugs in May 2006. He talked openly about his mental health and substance abuse for the first time, and something surprising happened — he became more popular with his constituency, winning reelection by a bigger margin than he had two years earlier.
On Thursday, the office of Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, a Democrat who was elected to the Senate after a bruising campaign during which he suffered a stroke, announced he had checked himself into the hospital for clinical depression. The statement said Fetterman
had experienced depression on and off in his life, but it had only become severe in recent weeks.
Aides to the senator who were granted anonymity to speak about private interactions said Fetterman had become withdrawn, something they had never seen from him. The hospital stay could take “weeks” or until doctors are satisfied with his progress, one of the aides said. He is not expected to resign from the Senate.
Fetterman’s public struggle is extraordinary
in a building where few talk about their own mental health, even while members of both parties have legislation to expand aid for it. Kennedy and a handful of others who have been open about their own problems, or those in their family, say they hope Fetterman’s honesty — and his decisive action to get help — will foster more openness among lawmakers and their constituents in the wake of a global pandemic that has had farreaching effects.
“This is a moment for us to tear down the stigma of depression and anxiety,” said Kennedy, who retired in 2010 and has become a leading voice on mental illness. “Sen. Fetterman may do more for people just by admitting that he’s getting help for depression than any bill he ends up sponsoring.”
The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, tweeted praise for Fetterman, saying he hopes his “courage will serve as an example for others.”
Fetterman’s Senate colleagues were immediately supportive.
“In every single city and town and rural community there is someone struggling with mental health,” said Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat who shared her own stories about periods of depression on the Senate floor four years ago. “If they see somebody else, like John, saying, ‘OK, I need to get medical care,’ that can be important to people.”
South Dakota’s John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said he thinks politicians have become more comfortable discussing the issue since the pandemic.
“The more open, transparent people can be, the better our understanding is,” Thune said.