By Chris Edwards
Recently, Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to, to quote a news release from his chief of staff, “receive treatment for clinical depression.”
Fetterman, of course, does not represent me. I haven’t been anywhere near the Keystone State in many years, but in some ways, he does represent me, and many other Americans.
Recent figures from the National Institute of Mental Health show that around 21 million adults in this country have had at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime, and furthermore, according to a survey’s findings from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one in four Americans have suffered some form of mental illness.
Fetterman, who was recently elected to his seat in the U.S. Senate, as a Democrat, after defeating celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who ran on the Republican ticket, has not had an easy road as of late. He suffered a near-fatal stroke last year, and experts claim that the risk of depression rises in stroke victims.
The hulking, bald, heavily tattooed politician first came to mainstream prominence when he was elected Pennsylvania’s Lt. Governor.
Many media figures who reported on Fetterman made note of his appearance, after all, he looks more like an executioner on Game of Thrones or a bassist in a sludge metal band as opposed to what we’re used to lawmakers looking like. Add to that his eschewing of suits and designer sportswear for Dickies workshirts and Carhartt gear, and Fetterman is easy to pick out of a crowd of politicians.
Fetterman, according to one report, has spent many months post-stroke “not so much recovering as pushing through”; involved in a heated campaign and, as of late, working to prove himself to constituents and peers as a freshman senator.
All the while, the depression is a condition that he has suffered with off and on throughout his life, according to his chief of staff Adam Jentleson.
While Fetterman gets nothing but compassion from me, in today’s hyper-partisan political climate, such is not the case from some of the voices on the ideological flip side of the aisle.
Some of the more conservative voices in mass media made comments suggesting that Fetterman was being exploited by his family and the voters of Pennsylvania. Fast-talking Ben Shapiro called it “cruel and disgusting” for Fetterman to have been “placed” in the position he is in, while Donald Trump, Jr. called Fetterman a “vegetable.”
Although we, as a society, still have miles to go in terms of speaking of mental illness with honesty and equanimity, we are a long way away from the dark ages when someone like Fetterman would have been ostracized from the masses.
Consider the plight of the historical figure James Lucas, the “Hermit of Hertfordshire,” who was known as an eccentric in the pre-Freudian days of complete ignorance of mental illness. Lucas was, by all accounts, a well-liked and well-educated fellow who just malfunctioned after his mother’s death.
Lucas locked himself away in his mansion for the remainder of his life and allowed no one to touch a single thing in the house.
Today a variety of interventions exist to help someone like Lucas recover at least some degree of function. Hopefully Fetterman is able to do the same and get back to working for the people of Pennsylvania.
Although, to reiterate, I live a long way from claiming Fetterman as a representative, and in terms of policy, there’s not likely a whole lot of common ground there, however I applaud him for taking the steps he needed to get help.
Millions of productive Americans battle depression, and although we are not in the dark ages anymore, there is still a long way to go toward understanding.
In the words of one of his Republican colleagues in the upper chamber, John Thune, of South Dakota, “The more open, transparent people can be [about mental health issues], the better our understanding is.”