Fetterman May Have Already Made His Greatest Impact

Discussing depression treatment helps destigmatize mental health issues, writes Li Zhou
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2023 9:47 AM CST
Fetterman May Have Already Made His Greatest Impact
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., leaves an intelligence briefing on the unknown aerial objects the US military shot down this weekend at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 14, 2023.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In announcing he's checked himself into Walter Reed National Medical Center for treatment of clinical depression, Sen. John Fetterman is doing something few politicians do—"normalizing a conversation around mental health," writes Li Zhou at Vox. "While the discourse about mental health has become more transparent in recent years, experts say statements from high-profile figures like Fetterman play an important role in continuing to destigmatize these issues," Zhou continues, citing a George Washington University psychiatrist who describes Fetterman's openness as "hugely powerful." Indeed, lawmakers say this could mark the greatest impact of his term.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance finds about 7% of adults are affected by a major depressive disorder, Zhou writes. Though the 53-year-old Fetterman has not linked his depression to his past stroke—Thursday's statement from Fetterman’s chief of staff noted the senator has "experienced depression off and on throughout his life"—his case also highlights the fact that "roughly one-third of stroke survivors experience depression," Zhou continues. Fetterman follows in the footsteps of other Democrats, including Sen. Tina Smith, Rep. Ritchie Torres, and former Reps. Katie Hill and Patrick Kennedy, who've each spoken openly about mental health issues.

Speaking in May 2006, Kennedy noted he initially refused mental health treatment recommended by doctors for fear he would be recognized at the hospital, per the AP. "Sen. Fetterman may do more for people just by admitting that he’s getting help for depression than any bill he ends up sponsoring," he now tells the outlet. Zhou notes Fetterman's decision to speak openly could "serve as a model for others," particularly other men. In a tweet acknowledging his own challenges with anxiety, depression, and ADHD, Michigan state Democratic Rep. Noah Arbit echoes Kennedy, arguing Fetterman's openness is "as profoundly impactful as any bill a US Senator could introduce." (More John Fetterman stories.)

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