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These Democrats Don't Just Have John Fetterman's Back, But Everyone Who Struggles With Mental Health Issues
True leadership on display.
Sen. John Fetterman’s public struggle with depression has led to a larger discussion about the stigmas surrounding mental health. While Fox News pundits and Donald Trump’s colossal failure of a son have mocked Fetterman’s condition and outright questioned his fitness, Fetterman's challenges are hardly unique. An estimated one in five US adults live with a mental illness (57.8 million in 2021).
Four of Fetterman’s Democratic colleagues — Sen. Tina Smith from Minnesota, Rep. Seth Moulton from Massachusetts, Rep. Ruben Gallego from Arizona, and Rep. Ritchie Torres from New York — spoke this week with ABC News’s Brittney Shepherd about their personal mental health struggles. It was a generous show of support for Fetterman’s recovery and a brave stance for politicians currently in office, including one who’s also running for Senate.
Torres told Shepherd he considers telling their stories a vital form of public service.
“We represent people who are deeply affected by mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, who want to see themselves in their elected officials," he said. "And I felt like I had a profound obligation to confront the culture of silence and stigma and shame that often surrounds the subject of mental health."
“.@SenFettermanPA is not the only Member of Congress to struggle with mental health. I spoke with @SenTinaSmith, @RepMoulton, @RepRitchie, @RepRubenGallego and together they made some of the most transparent disclosures about their journeys I’ve heard. ”
— Brittany Shepherd (@Brittany Shepherd) 1681170464
Torres and Smith share the common theme of depression striking bright, talented young people with promising futures. Smith’s first symptoms of depression occurred during her late teens, when she a college student at Stanford University. They emerged again when she was a young mother. She sought treatment both times but was formally diagnosed with clinical depression in her thirties. She credits therapy with helping her heal over time.
Smith is 65, so you can imagine the stigma around depression when she was a teen and even in her thirties. In 1972, George McGovern was pressured to remove his first running mate Thomas Eagleton from the ticket when it was revealed that Eagleton had been hospitalized multiple times for depression.
Torres, 35, struggled with depression as a high school student and was later diagnosed with major depressive disorder while at New York University.
"There were moments when I even attempted suicide," he said. "Ever since then, I've been managing the condition, and I never thought I would make it to the United States Congress."
He admits that he when he first ran for office in 2013, he felt it was safer to be open about his sexuality than his past mental health struggles. When an opponent in that race tried to frame his mental health as a liability, Torres fought back and resolved to "tell my story on my own terms.'"
Moulton and Gallego are both former Marines who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their service in Iraq. We valorize the military yet our society has forced veterans to feel shame or outright hide their mental wounds.
"I would wake up in cold sweats and have terrible dreams, but I was able to go to graduate school, I was able to hold down a job," Moulton said. "A lot of vets can't even do those simple things."
His condition improved after seeking therapy but like Torres, he considered this a "big skeleton" in his closet when he first ran for office. "Seeing a therapist," he admits, "can make the political attacks even worse."
"When I started going to therapists I [would] try to find as many ways as possible to hide that I was going to a therapist," Gallego said. "Like I would make sure that I was driving in a way that people couldn't figure out that I was pulling up to the therapist's office."
The good news is that Gallego doesn't feel he has to hide anymore, which he considers a "sea change."
Last month, when reintroducing legislation to strengthen the mental health work force, Smith said, "I’ve shared my own story with depression because I want anyone suffering from a mental health issue to know they are not alone. We can all help break the stigma around talking about this, but de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying mental illness is just the beginning. We have to make sure mental health resources are available to everyone."
Moulton considers his work on a bill that would provide suicide prevention and mental health support nationwide "probably the single most impactful thing [he's] done in Congress."
"Because telling my story, telling our stories," he said, "I mean, if that had cost any of our political careers and yet we saved just one life by doing that — it's worth it."
Watch more below.
[ ABC News ]
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