It’s back-to-work week for Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, following his release from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in late March. Fetterman had checked in six weeks before being treated for clinical depression.
Whatever your political persuasion, Fetterman’s candor about his mental illness — likely linked to a stroke last February — is admirable. Politicians, after all, aren’t supposed to be vulnerable (and aren’t very good at it).
Fetterman is a Democrat. He was praised for his decision to seek treatment – and to go public – with colleagues from both sides.
In an April 2 interview with Jane Pauley on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Fetterman said depression caused him to stop leaving his bed. He lost interest in eating or drinking and lost weight. And, he told Pauley, “I had stopped engaging in some of the most – that I love things in my life.”
Fetterman said the symptoms worsened after he won the November election. And even though he knew he had won, objectively, Fetterman shared, “depression can absolutely convince you that you actually lost – and that’s exactly what happened.” This was the beginning of his downward spiral.
When he was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s new senator on Jan. 3, Fetterman felt unconcerned about life — an admission uncommon in politics, because of the consequences.
In 1972, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton was chosen to run with presidential candidate George McGovern, in part because it was thought he could unite Democrats. Eighteen days later, Eagleton withdrew his candidacy, following revelations that he had been hospitalized for depression and treated with electroshock.
Missouri voters stood with Eagleton, re-electing him to the Senate for two additional terms.
Fifty years later, it’s not just politicians who openly share their mental health issues. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the 2021 French Open citing depression and anxiety. That same year, gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics, still dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse by her former American gymnastics doctor.
The focus on mental health and the willingness to talk about it openly benefits us all. Nearly 53 million Americans – 1 in 5 adults – suffer from mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. More than half of Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
The Society for Human Resource Management reported last year that employers have seen an increase in mental health issues and requests for accommodations, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Federal Act and other anti-employment laws. discrimination. Pandemic-related stress at work and home has contributed to this trend, exacerbated by economic uncertainty.
And according to SHRM, gun violence has also played a role, with more mass shootings than days so far this year. Tragedies damage the mental health of employees, especially those who have children in their lives. Events like the March 27 rampage at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee only add to their security concerns.
But less than 1 in 5 workers had access to mental health care through their employer. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness about available services, or maybe the perceived stigma of mental illness hasn’t gone away (or both).
A discussion on the topic of mental health in America must also include our young people, who are struggling with depression, anxiety and loneliness at an all-time high – made worse by social media (or caused by it, some would say) . Like adults, they are experiencing post-pandemic stress and economic worries. Pervasive gun violence erodes the sense of well-being and security that is essential to their healthy development.
Now, a majority of American teenagers say they are very or somewhat worried about the possibility of a shooting in their school.
At the National Center for Conflict Resolution, we have been working with young people for over a decade. Our approach has evolved. When harm occurred, we facilitated restorative conferences that led to a fair resolution for everyone involved – outside of the juvenile justice system. Now, we’ve incorporated cognitive behavioral therapy into the program, not only to address harmful behaviors, but also to identify and address the underlying causes.
We could very well be at the start of a generational shift in our thinking about mental health. As Sara Guillermo recently wrote in The Hill, “The idea that a political leader should be “strong” and “tough”, traits generally attributed to men, is less popular than before. As leaders face less of the old stigma surrounding mental health as a barrier, it will lead to more humane policy-making and more authentic and open leadership.
Welcome back, John Fetterman. Your return to the Senate could portend a more compassionate future for our country.