Red, green and blue — mental health on the minds of politicians

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Last May U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., checked himself into a mental health clinic following a stroke. This has drawn sharp criticism from predominant conservative figures, including Donald Trump Jr.

Emma Polen | News Editor

March 9, 2023

Like many other touchy subjects, depression has become a politically charged debate.

Last May, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-PA, checked himself into a mental health clinic following a stroke. Politicians on social media have been sending him various levels of well-wishes, but a division between blue and red responses to his hospitalization has clearly appeared.

In the conversation democrats are advocating for mental health beyond Fetterman’s specific, personal case.

“Millions of people struggle with depression every day, often in private. Getting the care you need is brave and important. We’re grateful to you for leading by example,” President Joe Biden said in a tweet following Fetterman’s hospitalization.

Depression is not an uncommon mental illness. A study from Columbia University and City University of New York found that in 2020, depression was “prevalent” in nearly 1 in 10 Americans. A politician coming forward to share their struggle with mental health might seem ludicrous to some, but relatable for at least that 10% of their constituents.

In fact, a public figure being vocal about their struggles with mental health might just be what some individuals needed to speak up about their own mental health.

On the other political side of the discussion conservatives tend to look for a concrete problem to fix. Their reaction to the. senator’s hospitalization seems to overwhelmingly be to find someone to blame.

If you’ve ever found yourself talking about suicide, the phrase “It’s no one’s fault” has probably come up. There really is no simple approach to solving what some are calling the “mental health pandemic,” including Chris Michaels, CEO of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

But, I admit, it is so easy to find a scapegoat in these tough situations.

Right now, Fetterman’s opponents seem to be taking the easy approach–to finding something or someone to blame.

Republicans came after Pennsylvania voters.

“I pray for his full and speedy recovery,” he said. “I can’t quite explain the voters of Pennsylvania,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in a video interview with Newsmax.

Fetterman’s health may have impacted voters’ decisions, but as a Pennsylvania voter, I know that this was not the main issue on my docket, nor did it have the biggest effect on most voters’ opinions.

Ben Shapiro, on a talk show with another conservative radio host, Megyn Kelly, blamed Fetterman’s wife and those in the senator’s life in general for the crisis.

“The question is who lied to whom, who is still lying, and is this person capable of holding out the office, and if not, why aren’t you just replacing him with another democrat?” Shapiro said.

It is so frustrating to be on the other side of an individual’s mental health crisis, knowing something is wrong but not knowing how to help without the individual communicating their needs.

If Fetterman’s peers are anything like the friends I have encountered, they want what is best for their friend first, before worrying about his career. Even if any of them had known about Fetterman’s struggles with mental health pre-election, they would be more concerned with his personal health than with alerting the media to his crisis.

Other Republicans have outright blamed the senator for his own lack of recognition to get help sooner, perhaps before he was sworn into office.

Donald Trump Jr., in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference recently, basically called Fetterman unfit for office.

“Is it unreasonable for me to expect, as a citizen of the United States of America, to have a United States senator have basic cognitive function,” he said.

Once again, it’s upsetting to see a conservative leader looking for a blanket solution that does not address the actual issue. Fetterman’s leadership does not rest on his ability to be “cured” of depression, but on his ability to seek help when it is needed and carry on as a leader. For that 10% of America with depression, resuming his duties soon will surely inspire hope and possibly de-stigmatize the need to ask for help.

There is no “truth” that conservative radio hosts seem to be searching for mental health is never a black-and-white issue. The senator’s lack of communication regarding his wellbeing is not a “lie” to the people. It’s more likely that the severity of his mental health problems were unknown to the people closest to him, possibly even himself.

Fetterman is in treatment, for an undetermined amount of time, and in the meantime, we should all take a moment to reflect on our own mental wellbeing. Don’t always look for an all-encompassing solution, but be mindful, be aware and check up on those friends who might not always be vocal about the help they need.