Please note that this blog is not intended to take any kind of political stand. At the same time, what happens in our political world as far as how politicians speak – or avoid speaking – about their mental health, especially with regard to depression, can influence attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of many.
I wrote this blog after watching an interview with newly elected Senator Jon Fetterman, on CBS Sunday Morning on April 2, 2023. I was moved by his transparency and willingness to disclose some of the dynamics of his recent bout of depression that landed him in the hospital. He spoke openly about the experience and emphasized the journey from feeling ashamed to understanding that his depression was not his fault.
“It’s like: You just won the biggest race in the country, and the whole thing about depression is that, objectively you may have won, but depression can absolutely convince you that you actually lost. And that’s exactly what happened. And that was the start of a downward spiral.” He goes on to share how the combination of psychotherapy and medication allowed him to recover and prepare to assume his responsibilities as a senator.
Fetterman is not the first political figure to make the news because of a bout of depression. For example, former member of Congress, Patrick J. Kennedy, who represented Rhode Island in the House, and also is the son of the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy was an early practitioner of openness about struggles with mental health. Back in the 2000s, he told voters about having been treated for depression and substance abuse. The article goes on to share the following statement Kennedy made: “The real challenge for us is, how do we understand these illnesses, and how do we distinguish between the illness and the person?” He goes on to say, “I am not my addiction. I am a person with addiction.” Using that statement, I think we can add, “I am not my depression. I am a person who experiences depression.”
While this blog barely touches the subject of depression, there are a few noteworthy resources that provide valuable information and insights on what depression is and how it can affect a person. SAMSHA provides such valuable information.
“Major depressive disorder isn’t something that eventually passes. While most people feel sad at times in their lives, major depression is when a person is in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Some people feel depressed without knowing why.
The onset can happen at any age [including early childhood] although it usually begins in adulthood. People may only have one depressive episode, but most have multiple episodes over time. While the exact causes of major depression are unknown, some risk factors include a family history of depression and significant life events such as trauma, times of high stress, loss of a job or relationship, or the death of a loved one. People with a serious medical illness such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease, may be at an increased risk of developing major depression.”
Much is available online about the study of depression. According to a 2022 online article from Harvard Health entitled What Causes Depression: “Depression is more than a passing bout of sadness or dejection or feeling down in the dumps. It can leave you feeling continuously burdened and can sap the joy out of once-pleasurable activities.” It goes on to say: “The onset of depression is more complex than a brain chemical imbalance… that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn’t simply spring from having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather there are many possible causes.”
SAMSHA adds the following message of hope: “Those struggling with this illness are not alone. It’s one of the most common and most treatable mental health disorders. With early, continuous treatment, people can gain control of their symptoms, feel better, and get back to enjoying their lives.”
I am grateful to any public figures, from politicians to movie stars, who are willing to reveal their personal struggles with depression to inspire others to seek treatment if they too are suffering. We can all benefit from having inspirational role models who promote mental health by acknowledging the reality of these struggles that can rob us of the joy of living.
Check out the following for some powerful images of the brains of people suffering from depression.
Invitation for Reflection
- Have you or anyone you are close to experienced one or more bouts of depression? What was your or their attitude towards it? Were you or they comfortable seeking the help and support you or they deserved?
- How might you help others in your world know how depression is nothing to be ashamed of? How might sharing that there are politicians and others in the public eye who openly discuss their struggles with depression help them seek treatment?
- How can you educate others and encourage them to seek the help they need and deserve?