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Fetterman is open about his mental health struggles. He’s not alone.


Holding public office has traditionally required maintaining a facade of physical and mental vigor. So, when Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) sought treatment for clinical depression this week, his openness was characterized as “remarkable” and “rare.”

But with as many as 1 in 5 Americans experiencing a mental illness in a given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fetterman is far from alone.

In disclosing his condition, Fetterman has joined a group of political figures around the world who have done the same. High-profile figures in Britain, Canada and elsewhere have put their ambitions on hold in the interest of improving their mental well being.

These leaders are “humanizing” mental health issues and promoting acceptance, says Michelle Blanchard, a fellow at the University of Melbourne and special adviser to Australia’s National Mental Health Commission. “It shows that these issues can affect anyone, and it can give others permission to share their own experiences,” she says.

Two members of Parliament who stepped back from their work in recent years due to mental health concerns took the opportunity to speak to others who may be facing similar difficulties.

Nadia Whittome, a Labour lawmaker and the youngest member of Parliament when she was elected, announced on Twitter in May 2021 that she would be taking a leave of absence and acknowledged the stigma around her disclosure.

“I feel it is important for me to be honest that it is mental ill-health I am suffering from, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder,” wrote Whittome, who had previously spoken about receiving death threats and hate mail on social media. “Through being open about my own mental health struggle, I hope that others will also feel able to talk about theirs.”

Last summer, Conservative lawmaker William Wragg followed suit. Citing “severe” depression and anxiety, Wragg announced on Twitter that he would step back from his work to banish “the black dog.”

Addressing anyone who “feels similarly,” Wragg said he would encourage them “to speak to someone they trust, seek and accept support. Do not assume those who are outwardly confident and successful are without doubts and despair.”

A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal found that members of Parliament had higher rates of metal illness than the general English population. Of 146 members of Parliament who participated, more than three-quarters said they had “less than optimal” mental health or “probable” common mental disorders.

Once dubbed a “political gladiator,” Mark Holland, Canada’s leader of the government in the House of Commons,came forward last fall about the pain of throwing his “entire universe” into politics and sacrificing his relationships in the process.

In a speech arguing that a hybrid work environment should remain an option for lawmakers post-pandemic, he said he was in a “really desperate spot” after losing a reelection campaign in 2011. He said he had failed in his personal life and described an attempt to take his own life. His passion and purpose, he said, “was in ashes at my feet.”

“This place needs to be more human, it needs to be more compassionate,” he told the procedure and House affairs committee.

In 2006, former premier of Western Australia Geoff Gallop stepped down, telling his constituents that “living with depression is a very debilitating experience which affects different people in different ways.” More than a decade later, he told Australia’s ABC news the decision to quit was “easy,” because “I really wanted to recover.”

More recently, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke about becoming severely depressed after being ousted as the Liberal leader in 2009. “For the first time in my life, suicidal thoughts started to enter my mind, unbidden and unwanted,” he wrote in a 2020 memoir.

Over the last few decades, “loads” of lawmakers in Australia have come forward, Nick Glozier, a psychology professor at the University of Sydney, wrote in an email. These disclosures have become so “commonplace,” he said, that he is “not convinced” they have the effect on reducing stigma they did a few decades ago.

Political figures have been publicly discussing their mental health since at least the 1990s, when Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik took a leave of absence of 10 months after taking office, due to what doctors called a “depressive reaction” to too much work and stress, according to the New York Times.

A poll at the time suggested that 82 percent of Norwegians thought he was right to reveal his “strain.” Jens Stoltenberg, now secretary general of NATO, defended Bondevik’s decision to the Times: “He is sick. If anyone tries to utilize that in political debate, that would be wrong.”

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.

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