The presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., And Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn., Have recently delivered confessions that are rare for congressmen: they have already struggled and been treated for mental health problems. traumatic stress disorder and she for depression.
Discussing these issues out loud is a political gamble, and over the years, few other members of Congress have been forthcoming, but it is highly likely that a number of politicians have been confronted with mental health problems. In the United States, about 47 million people each year suffer from disorders such as anxiety or depression. According to the National Alliance Against Mental Illness, 11 million of them suffer from more serious illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Among the members of the Congress who shared their diagnoses Representative Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Who started talking openly about her PTSD after her election in 2014, and former representative Lynn Rivers, D-Mich., Who stated in 1994 that she was successfully taking a treatment for bipolar disorder.
"There are certainly more than three or four national legislators who have problems, and I'm sure many suffer silently because they fear political reactions," said Darrell West, vice president and director of studies. on governance at the Brookings Institution. .
The epithets related to mental health are sometimes still used by politicians against their enemies. President Trump called his detractors "crazy", "psychopathic" and "job", and the Democrats rejected the president, saying he was mentally unfit to perform his duties. For example, Speaker of the House of Representatives' Budget Committee, John Yarmuth, is planning an event in July in which psychiatrists and other disciplines will testify to how they think the mental state of Trump makes him dangerous for the country.
"I am very shocked when many of my fellow Democrats launch this kind of attack on the President because I think it inadvertently contributes to the stigma of mental illness," said Patrick Kennedy, a former Congressman from Rhode Island. "Nobody really wants to be compared to the president."
The uplifting story about mental illness that haunts politicians is that of Thomas Eagleton, who was expelled from George McGovern's presidential term in 1972 after just 18 days, as it was revealed that he had received electroconvulsive therapy. for depression.
Politicians who do not seek treatment for mental illness have struggled to keep up with the demands of their careers. Last year, Democrat Jason Kander had to abandon the Kansas City mayoral race to focus on the treatment of PTSD. Former representative Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Resigned from Congress in 2012, claiming that he had to focus on the treatment of bipolar disorder, in addition to the federal inquiry into his misuse of campaign money, for which he then pleaded guilty. The late Rep. Karen McCarthy, D-Mo., Had been cared for in 2003 after sinking into an office building and her family had revealed after her death that she was suffering from an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
"It's a very stressful job, even in typical circumstances," said West. "If you associate mental health problems with all the other pressures of work, it's very difficult."
Kennedy, son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, know how difficult it is to be in power with an untreated mental health problem. His constituents knew about his struggles a long time ago, but the Washington crowd learned this in 2006 when, in a fog of prescription drugs, he crashed his car at 2:45 am into a barricade on Capitol Hill.
"I've never chosen to go out," Kennedy said, citing the diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder. "I thought I was keeping my illness secret, and the big problem with stigma today is that we are shaving the truth here and there and I realized I was getting another DWI … The secrets you make it really sick. "
After that, however, something unexpected happened: people stuck him regularly in the election campaign, muttering that they were under the Prozac antidepressant and forcing him to keep the secret. Kennedy thinks it was probably because he had not only a mental illness, but he had been working for a long time in Congress to pass legislation that would help other people affected.
Although he was easily reelected after the accident, Kennedy had to resign a few years later, after the death of his father.
"It has become untenable for me," he said. "I was lucky enough to have enough insight to know that I would not be able to continue." He managed to become sober, get treatment and continue to defend his interests on the ground.
Psychiatrists interviewed as part of this article agreed that most people with mental health problems receiving treatment could be well, but noted that many people do not ask for help because that they fear not to be perceived. As a result, their condition can worsen.
For politicians, the risk of seeing a therapist or taking an antidepressant will become a handicap if this happens. Smith faces an election in 2020 for his seat, which she held after Al Franken canceled it following allegations of sexual misconduct.
"People are using whatever they can find against their opponent," said Arash Javanbakht, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Most insults, he said, are "rooted in ignorance or misinformation".
However, he added that he felt that substance abuse or a personality disorder would be very worrisome to a leader, as it affects his judgment.
Charles Nemeroff, Acting Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Dell Medical School of the University of Texas at Austin, said he thought about public attitudes would still be a significant barrier for anyone with a history of mental illness who wishes to become president.
"I do not think it would do a lot of good for presidential candidates to say," I have suffered from depression and thought about suicide, "he said. deciding if a candidate qualified for a higher position due to a certain diagnosis, as suggested by some experts and decision makers, was a slippery slope.
"We all agree that if you hear voices or see things that are missing, that would be a problem, or if you were in bed all day, every day, because you were depressed and you think only about suicide, "he said. "But between these two extremes, there is a lot of ground, which is why it's so complicated."
Kennedy said that in the end, mental health still did not receive the funding and attention that she deserved, which reinforces public perception.
"We always feel that these diseases are not well managed, which prevents people from admitting that they have one of these diseases," Kennedy said. "People will feel that someone is still really sick."
When asked if he could see someone with bipolar disorder running openly to the presidency, Kennedy replied, "I can not, I'm sorry to say … I think it may take a little while. "