On Wednesday evening, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) checked in to Washington’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be treated for clinical depression, according to a statement from his office yesterday. Fetterman, the statement said, has long suffered from depression, but the condition has recently become “severe.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports,
“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” his chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, said in a statement. “On Monday, John was evaluated by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress. Yesterday, Dr. Monahan recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed. John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis.”
Jentleson added that, “After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself.”
Fetterman had also been hospitalized briefly last week after feeling lightheaded; tests determined he had not suffered another stroke, and his office said an EEG showed no signs of seizures, either. He returned to work in the Senate Monday for a vote.
Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the US, affecting almost a tenth of all adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s a fucking bear to live with, although many of us manage pretty well with antidepressant meds, according to me. Also, a 2021 study found that rates of depression in the US increased during the early months of the pandemic in 2020. And of course, depression is very common among people who’ve survived a stroke.
Frankly, we’re pretty sure everyone in America has been in a state of existential crisis since election night 2016, at least if they’ve been paying attention. Shit has been unrelenting, and that has to go triple for people actually in the middle of things.
Fetterman’s wife, Giselle Barreto Fetterman, wrote on Twitter yesterday,
After what he’s been through in the past year, there’s probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John. I’m so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs. […]
Take care of yourselves. Hold your loved ones close, you are not alone.
The New York Times reports that aides to Sen. Fetterman expect he won’t be hospitalized longer than a few days, although no firm estimate of when he’ll be released home has yet been determined.
Fetterman’s health had been steadily improving since a stroke last summer, but the already stressful work of starting a new job as a senator has been complicated by the continued effects of the stroke, which left him with auditory processing difficulties, as we saw during his campaign debate against Republican snake oil merchant Mehmet Oz in October. Fortunately, there’s a lot of adaptive technology that has been helpful, the Times notes:
The sergeant-at-arms has arranged for live audio-to-text transcription for Mr. Fetterman’s committees and installed a monitor at his desk so he can follow proceedings with closed captioning. His Democratic colleagues in the Senate have been growing accustomed to communicating with him through a tablet that transcribes their words, technology he needs after suffering from auditory processing issues associated with his stroke.
The Times also points out that Fetterman simply never had the usual period of convalescence that would be the norm after a stroke, which
has become a source of pain and frustration for Mr. Fetterman and people close to him, who fear that he may suffer long-term and possibly permanent repercussions. His schedule as a freshman senator has meant that he has continued to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental.
The Inquirer adds that a “source close to Fetterman” said he had voted and attended hearings Wednesday, but that the stress was showing:
“He was doing everything. He’s been doing everything, he just hasn’t been himself,” the person said, asking for anonymity to disclose personal information. “He decided to get help, and the good news is, he’s getting the help he needs.”
And for Crom’s sake, he deserves that. Doesn’t everyone?
Reactions to Fetterman’s hospitalization have been — at least outside Troll World — overwhelmingly supportive and empathetic. The Washington Post notes that Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) tweeted, “There is never any weakness in seeking help.” Gallego has spoken publicly about having experienced PTSD after serving in Iraq, and said the January 6 insurrection had triggered a recurrence. In addition,
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who’s spoken publicly about her own battle with depression, also said Fetterman was displaying strength, “not weakness.”
Smith has spoken in Congress about dealing with depression in college, and while raising her children, and told the Post that she’s regularly approached by young people who say that her openness has made them feel able to talk about their own experiences with depression.
We’ve finally reached a point in our crazy society where mental illness can be talked about in the same register we’d discuss a heart attack or other serious physical illness, and that’s a hell of an improvement within my own lifetime. Recall that in 1972, George McGovern suddenly dropped his vice presidential nominee, Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Missouri), when news broke that Eagleton had been hospitalized three times for severe depression, and that he’d also had electroconvulsive therapy.
A lot has changed in 50 years.
Here’s wishing all the best to John Fetterman and his family, and we hope — perhaps naively, we’re prone to that — that we’ll take this as a chance to talk about mental illness and how we’re all navigating this strange reality we’ve been in for over half a decade. We’re deliberately staying away from Twitter for a while for that reason.
Be kind to each other. Try to remember we’re all just trying to get through all this, and it isn’t fucking easy.
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