How John Fetterman’s hospital stay for depression compares to other Pennsylvanians

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pennsylvania) in the Old Senate Chamber for the ceremonial swearing-in on Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C.

John Fetterman is due to return to the US Senate on Monday after spending 44 days in hospital treating an episode of severe depression.

That’s about four times longer than the typical stay for a Pennsylvanian first admitted to treat a disorder that Fetterman said it made him stop eating and feel indifferent to life. He couldn’t get out of bed even when his son tried to celebrate his still fresh victory in one of the most watched elections in the country.

To put Fetterman’s experience into perspective, The Inquirer analyzed state data on the 42,000 hospital stays for depression in 2021, the most recent year available. About a third were in the Philadelphia area, according to records maintained by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

READ MORE: What we learned about Fetterman’s health, from his stroke last May to his recent hospital stay for depression

Fetterman’s length of stay was unusual – about 97% of patients hospitalized for depression were discharged within 30 days. But he fit the profile of many Pennsylvanians being treated in hospitals for the condition: a white man who was sent home after his stay.

That’s not to say Fetterman, a freshman U.S. senator, is a typical patient. The 53-year-old from Braddock, Pennsylvania, sought treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, a top hospital serving national leaders. By contrast, many in Pennsylvania have to wait months just to see a therapist.

Fetterman’s health has come under scrutiny since suffering a stroke before the primary election last spring and began sharing information about his long battle with depression after being hospitalized in February. His office shared information about his mental health issues through press releases, which included statements from doctors noting that his depression was being managed with medication and therapy.

READ MORE: Fetterman opens up about depression in first interview since hospitalization

“He had great health care and was able to really take the time he needed to do the right thing and take care of his mental health,” said a senior aide to Fetterman, who shared with CBS Sunday morning that his depression is in remission for the “first time”.

Here’s what analysis from The Inquirer showed about how hospital stays for depression typically go in Pennsylvania.

Who is admitted for depression?

In 2021, hospitals across the state had more than 42,000 admissions where the primary diagnosis was depression. In about 6,000 of these cases, the person was first admitted for another reason, such as suicidal thoughts, a psychotic episode or anxiety.

Young adults aged 18-39 most likely to be admitted for depression — representing 40% hospital admissions statewide. Adult men and women were equally likely to be treated. The exception: girls under 18 accounted for three out of four hospitalized young people.

People of color accounted for one in five cases. This roughly matches the demographics of the state.

men in their fifties, like Fetterman, accounted for about 6% of admissions.

READ MORE: Nearly One in Four Young Adults Received Mental Health Treatment in 2021, CDC Says

Announcing his hospitalization, his office shared that Fetterman struggled with depression throughout his life. It was his first hospitalization. Just over half of Pennsylvania admissions in 2021 were for recurring episodes.

The majority of those hospitalized have difficulty performing activities of daily living, said Brittni Jones, medical director of inpatient psychiatric units at Main Line Health’s Bryn Mawr Hospital.

“I get so depressed or so anxious that I can’t function,” she said. patients tell him. “I don’t get out of bed to take a shower. I don’t take my medication.

Fetterman’s doctor to Walter Reed described his symptoms as “severe”. The senator said he arrived at the hospital after a period in which he stopped eating and drinking, which affected his blood pressure.

And while Fetterman said he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, he also told CBS he doesn’t have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

How long are people in hospital for depression?

Length of stay is where Fetterman’s experience differs greatly from that of most Pennsylvania patients.

In 2021, about 3% of hospitalizations for depression lasted more than 30 days. Fetterman’s stay totaled 44 days.

On average, a hospitalization for depression in Pennsylvania lasts 10 days, according to state data. Patients who had previous episodes of depression stayed a little longer. Stays were longer for children under 18 and adults aged 60 and over – both groups were in hospital for around 13 days on average.

READ MORE: Senator John Fetterman has been hospitalized for depression. Here’s what to know about the common but serious disorder.

Many factors can contribute to length of stay: severity of symptoms, other medical conditions that may complicate treatment, or insurance.

Fetterman is also a celebrity patient, a status that often leads to special care and privileges, which could also have contributed to the extended stay.

“It shouldn’t be something only a senator can get,” the senior aide said of Fetterman’s care. “It shouldn’t be something that’s a luxury, it should become the norm and it’s something he’s going to fight for.”

What do people do when they are in the hospital?

Fetterman spent his time at Walter Reed receiving therapy and learning about depression, while clinicians adjusted his medication dosages, a senior aide said. For most of the time, Fetterman met almost daily for an hour with staffers to continue his work in the Senate.

Working while seeking hospital care for a mental health problem is not routine.

READ MORE: John Fetterman sponsored hospital bill. Here’s what he can and can’t do in the Senate while on salary.

Robert Fine, 61, spent two weeks in the psychiatric unit at Bryn Mawr Hospital in late 2019 for depression and anxiety. He said he felt like his “brain had stopped working”.

For Ardmore’s attorney, the stay felt like camp at times. Fine spent her days with about 20 other patients. They did group therapy, puzzles, potlucks. He also met with his social worker and his psychiatrist.

Overall, Fine was miserable. At the end of visiting time, the doors closed behind her departing family members.

“If you were like, ‘Bob, you know, you can go rest for two weeks. Do you want to rest in a mental health unit? I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to go back,'” said Fine. “But it certainly served an important purpose to improve me.”

Where did the patients go after discharge?

On March 31, Fetterman left Walter Reed and returned to his home in Braddock. This is how about 90% of hospital admissions in Pennsylvania ended in 2021.

The end of a hospital stay is often followed by therapy or medication.

READ MORE: Depression can get better. These four Philadelphians are living proof of that.

Fine, the lawyer, was prescribed medication that allowed him to feel like himself again during his stay in the hospital. Although he was ready to leave earlier, he stayed for two weeks, with his wife’s encouragement.

After his release, he underwent daily outpatient therapy which lasted several hours, five days a week, for two weeks.

Three years later, he feels good. He still consults his psychiatrist and takes medication. Fine said he wasn’t bothered by the experience.

“As long as you are under the care of a doctor, as long as you take the proper medications,” he said, “my disorder can be treated as well as any other disorder.”

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