On November 8, 2022, John Fetterman defeated Mehmet Oz in one of the most talked about U.S. Senate elections of that year. Before becoming a senator, 53-year-old Fetterman had a successful career in the insurance industry until he served as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, from 2006 to 2019. Fetterman also worked as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor from 2019 until January 3, 2023.
On the surface, John Fetterman seemed thrilled that he had won the senate election. Temporarily sidelined by an ischemic stroke in the middle of his campaign, Fetterman made a remarkable recovery, continued his campaign, and beat Oz by several percentage points.
Unknown to everyone except his wife Gisele, John Fetterman had been dealing with severe feelings of despondency and hopelessness following his stroke. In fact, Fetterman later told the media that he had been coping with recurring episodes of depression throughout his life.
On February 16, 2023, John Fetterman voluntarily entered the neuropsychiatric unit at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment of clinical depression.
Following his discharge from Walter Reed on March 31, 2023, Fetterman gave several interviews about his experience with depression treatment. Daily talk therapy, medication management, regular physical activity, and education regarding the causes of clinical depression provided Fetterman with tremendous insight into his depression. Two months after undergoing depression treatment, Fetterman’s depression is now in remission, he is fulfilling his duties as a U.S. senator, and, more important, he is publicly advocating for stamping out the stigma of mental illness.
In an interview with People magazine, John Fetterman urged anyone experiencing major depression to “address your depression” and “please, go to the doctor.” He said he had been “skeptical” that treatment would help him but stated, “Treatment works. And I am so grateful.”
News About John Fetterman’s Depression Breaks Through the Stigma of Mental Illness
In another interview with NPR in April 2023, Fetterman said that even though he won the election against Mehmet Oz, he still felt lost. ” I wasn’t elated or happy about winning the election,” he admitted. “I was just relieved that it was over.”
He also said in the same interview that he never really had an opportunity to fully recover from his ischemic stroke. “I had depression, a lot of stress, and I wasn’t able to address my mental health” between suffering the stroke and restarting the senate campaign.
Today, John Fetterman is resolved to speak about his experience with depression openly and honestly. He is encouraging people with depression to seek treatment and reject the stigma surrounding mental illness. “I am committed to letting anyone with depression know that there is a path and that you can get better.”
The Importance of Public Figures Sharing Personal Mental Health Struggles
Most of us view public figures and celebrities as almost superhuman entities, impervious to the ordinary and not-so-ordinary problems that we must deal with every day. We assume public figures don’t have to worry about paying bills because they are rich. We assume celebrities hire nannies and housekeepers so they can pursue their careers. We assume famous people must be exempt from all the worries, stress, and troubles we try our best to cope with, because they don’t talk about them.
When we learn about a public figure’s personal or professional issues, it’s usually in the form of a gossip magazine article or rumors started on social media. Rarely do celebrities make real-time statements about rumor mill chatter. Instead, they wait until several months have gone by to talk about a divorce, a separation, or other similar incidences. Consequently, celebrities are able to maintain this illusion of their perfect lives by commenting on something imperfect in their lives months or even years after it happened.
The courage it took for a public figure like Fetterman to admit to suffering from major depression throughout his life and talking openly and immediately about getting treatment for clinical depression is extraordinary. However, his honesty did not stop the barrage of stereotypical beliefs about mental illness from appearing on social media. Some members of Congress said Fetterman should resign because he might never get well enough to resume his duties as a U.S. senator. Others claimed Fetterman should not have run for senator when he knew he was vulnerable to major depression.
Although Fetterman’s disbelievers never said it outright, their rhetoric hinted at why many people with depression do not seek treatment. Stereotypes of individuals with mental illness paint them as “unpredictable,” “intellectually deficient,” and “dangerous.” These prejudicial assumptions may also include blaming the person for their mental health issue and expecting that person to just “shake it off.” Similar to the stigma of substance addiction as a “choice” and not a medical disease, the stigma of mental illness prevents many people from getting the treatment they need.
Lessons from John Fetterman About Depression
Senator Fetterman encourages anyone with depression or other mental health problems to reach out for help as soon as possible. He has praised his wife Gisele for providing him with unconditional love and support throughout his hospitalization for depression.
He also urges depressed individuals not to wait to get treatment. Rarely does depression simply go away without professional help. In fact, the risk of mild depression developing into severe depression increases as time passes. Untreated depression can negatively impact physical health, a career, relationships, and quality of life, unless treated by experienced and caring therapists.
Having a support system in place, whether that system involves family members, friends, or mental health professionals, is also critical to recovering after treatment. Senator Fetterman has said that he probably would not have voluntarily entered Walter Reed for depression treatment without the love and support of his wife Gisele.
It was Gisele who had a heart-to-heart conversation with him about getting help for his depression. “You are an amazing Dad,” Gisele told her husband. “They are lucky to have you. But, your children’s memory will be of you being sad all the time.” Gisele says she knew her frankness upset him enough to compel him to seek professional care.
Know When to Seek Treatment for Depression
Everybody feels sad and anxious periodically. Reacting to disappointments and upheavals with appropriate emotions is normal and expected. It is when a deep sense of emptiness, anxiety, and hopelessness takes over your thoughts and your life that you should seek treatment for what is likely clinical depression.
John Fetterman survived an ischemic stroke, campaigned for the U.S. Senate, won the election, and says his depression is now in remission.
“You cannot lock away a problem and throw away the key. I don’t know if it’s an unpopular view or a popular view, but it’s the truth.” he said.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, tell someone you trust.