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Decryption | The depression of a senator and the end of a taboo



(New York) Some have praised his courage. Others said they were proud of him. Still others wished him full recovery and a return to work in due time.

It is clear: members of the American political class could not have reacted in a more benevolent way to the announcement of the voluntary hospitalization for depression of the Democratic senator of Pennsylvania John Fetterman.

It must be said that the giant with the bald head, known for his casual outfits – kangaroo, shorts or jeans – did not have it easy.

He was elected last November in a key midterm election battle marred by questions about his health. A stroke suffered just days before the Democratic primary almost cost him his life.

And now he has to fight against depression, which is not a surprise in itself. It is actually a common complication of strokes. A complication that may have been contributed to by a highly publicized campaign against surgeon and television host Mehmet Oz and the challenges of a new life in Washington.

But the announcement of this hospitalization for depression illustrates an important change. The same is true of the reaction of the political class, which goes in the direction of a better understanding of the issues related to mental health within American society.

“I admire Senator John Fetterman for openly seeking treatment for depression at [l’hôpital militaire] Walter Reed,” New York Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres tweeted. “In 2010, I was hospitalized for depression. I wouldn’t be alive, let alone in Congress, without mental health care. Millions of Americans support you, senator. »

History of secrecy

It has not always been so. After the announcement of John Fetterman’s team, many commentators recalled the story of former Democratic Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton. Vice-presidential candidate in 1972, the latter had hidden from the presidential candidate, the Democratic senator of South Dakota George McGovern, that he had been hospitalized three times for depression and that he had undergone electroshock therapy .

When a newspaper broke the story, George McGovern initially said he was “1000%” behind his running mate. But Senator Eagleton would eventually withdraw his candidacy, under pressure from the Democratic Party presidential candidate and his team.

In a 2006 interview, George McGovern expressed regret for the way he handled the episode.

But Thomas Eagleton’s story has helped perpetuate the culture of silence around mental health in politics.

Another episode illustrates this taboo. During the 1988 presidential campaign, the washington timesa conservative newspaper, made a big deal out of a rumor that Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis suffered from depression after his brother died in 1973 or after his defeat in a Massachusetts gubernatorial election in 1978.

Asked about the article of the Times, Republican President Ronald Reagan said, “I’m not going to attack an invalid. »

An hour later, he was to issue a flat apology: “I was just trying to be funny, but it didn’t work. »

Never mind: to fight the rumor, Michael Dukakis had made it clear that he had “never received professional help” for a mental health problem, which his personal doctor had to confirm in a statement.

Thirty-five years later, the brave are those who ask for help.

Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore, is often credited with initiating change in the way depression is handled or perceived in the political world. At the start of the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election of 2000, she had signed a platform in the USA Today in which she revealed that she had undergone treatment for a depression from which she said she was cured.

“If it helps one person, then I think it will have been worth it,” she wrote, saying she wanted to destigmatize the mental illness which, each year, struck 51 million Americans in one form or another.

The wife of the future Democratic presidential candidate may also have wanted to defuse any media revelations that could have harmed her husband.

bad languages

But this de-stigmatization is not complete, considering the reaction of some right-wing media personalities to news of John Fetterman’s depression. On Friday, Donald Trump Jr, the former president’s eldest son, called him a “vegetable senator”. Others have accused Democrats of exploiting a disabled person. Still others suspected his wife Gisele of wanting to replace him after a potential resignation.

Obviously, the Fettermans, who have three children, are going through a painful period. The senator is still far from being recovered from his stroke.

In addition to having to live with a pacemaker (pacemaker) and a defibrillator, he has to deal with hearing problems that often force him to use a tablet that transcribes the words of others. This is a particularly frustrating situation for a man who enjoyed talking to reporters on the phone.

According to a recent article by New York Timesadding to this frustration is the fact that John Fetterman realized he may never be the man he was before his stroke and may have permanently compromised his recovery by not not taking the recommended rest period during the campaign.

If he manages to recover from his depression, he may see his situation differently. In the meantime, he doesn’t have to fight any more against a taboo.

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