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People understandably have lots of thoughts and opinions about Sen. John Fetterman checking himself into a hospital in the Washington, D.C. area to receive inpatient treatment for clinical depression. This comes after Fetterman has been recovering from a stroke suffered last year and as he begins his time in the U.S. Senate.
First and foremost, we are sure of one thing. Mental health care is health care and should be treated as such. Everyone, not just senators, should have access to mental health services and should feel comfortable asking for help. And while there are many policy barriers that need to be overcome in this area, there is a particular barrier to people dealing with these common health challenges that we all can help address: stigma.
Depression is common, and treatable. But by historically (and wrongly) treating mental health as some unacknowledged flaw not to be discussed, society has put up an artificial barrier to needed treatment. That has been changing, and must continue to change. Any political considerations aside, we hope this is the main takeaway from Fetterman’s very public decision to acknowledge and deal with his depression.
Fetterman’s chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, said in a statement on Thursday that the Pennsylvania Democrat has experienced depression “off and on throughout his life” but that it became severe in recent weeks.
“On Monday, John was evaluated by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress. Yesterday, Dr. Monahan recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed. John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis,” Jentleson said. “After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself.”
We’ll leave the debate about politicians’ fitness to serve to others, except to say that plenty of prominent politicians have taken time away from their roles to address health issues like cancer or needed surgeries. People have accepted those breaks with little to no issue, and the same should be true with mental health.
Unfortunately, some of the responses to Fetterman’s announcement have fallen along political lines. To some Republicans, it apparently has been further proof that Fetterman should not have run for office at all given his health issues. To some Democrats, it makes the plain-spoken larger-than-life Fetterman look even more like a hero.
We think it makes him look like a person, dealing with a very common health challenge. He may be one of only 100 U.S. senators, but he is one of millions of Americans dealing with major depression.
“Depression is a treatable condition, and generally involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy, talk therapies, and may include treating other underlying medical conditions as well,” Dr. Rebecca Brendel, president of the American Psychiatric Association, told CBS News after the announcement from Fetterman’s office.
We wish Fetterman the best, and we hope his very public move to get help with a very common health issue will further erode stigma around mental health. It should also put more pressure on his fellow policymakers to make sure access to mental health treatment is on par with other health care services.