I spent a lot of my rolling time this week, thinking about Senator John Fetterman. More specifically, about the public perception of Fetterman‘s choice to take leave of his Senate seat, to address a mental health concern. Fetterman has dealt with depression, intermittently, throughout his adult life. According to sources, that depression became more severe after a recent stroke. Approximately 1/3rd of all stroke survivors experience some level of depression.
Members of the opposing political party, and some media outlets supporting that party, were quick to call for Fetterman’s resignation. They argued that someone dealing with a mental health issue was not fit to execute the responsibilities of that job. If living and dealing with mental a health issue precludes one from performing their job, at least half of America should be out of work, according to that reasoning. Fetterman’s decision to do what’s in the best interest of his mental health, is not only admirable, it was brave. It sets an example for others, that mental health should be addressed — like any other illness.
When past members of the senate and the house of representatives have dealt with physical issues such as heart disease, cancer, and other debilitating physical issues, their constituencies, as well as their contemporaries from both parties, have supported them. Failing to do this for a mental health issue sends a horrible message to the tens of millions of Americans who are already afraid to take that step into the hospital that Fetterman took last week — to get help.
This shouldn’t be a partisan or a media thing. The stigma associated with mental illness is the largest barrier between those who need help, and the help that’s available to them. That we stand up for and support people dealing with cancer, heart disease, and other physical illnesses, but wince or belittle someone who struggles with mental health, is to our national shame.
I’ve lived with mental health issues since I can remember. I can’t count the times that, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, I’ve thought about stopping whatever I was doing and checking myself into a hospital — because I felt I was profoundly incompatible with the world around me. And for that precise fear of being stigmatized, outcast, or perhaps put in the wrong level of treatment, I John Wayne’d my way through it, finding therapy in exercise, writing, and for 10 years of my life, through alcohol. Somehow, and by the grace of God, I’ve managed to stay ahead of it, though the shadow of depression still leans over me regularly.
Until we view and discuss mental illness in the same way we see cancer, heart disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, people will be afraid to seek treatment they need, and the problem will cascade, only to grow larger, and larger still. Regardless of your political persuasion, or what your agenda is in the voting booth, we should support Senator Fetterman in the same way we would support our own child. He set an excellent example for the millions of people who are hesitant to take the exact step that he took — a step that may have saved his life.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
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