Sen. John Fetterman has checked himself into a hospital for inpatient treatment for clinical depression, the Pennsylvania Democrat’s office announced Thursday.
“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” Fetterman Chief of Staff Adam Jentleson said in a statement.
Jentleson said that on Wednesday night, Fetterman was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on a voluntary basis, following the advice of Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan.
“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,” Jentleson said.
Fetterman, 53, had a stroke in May while a candidate for Senate and has been working on the recovery since then. He was admitted to The George Washington University Hospital last week and discharged Feb. 10 after what his office described as the senator feeling lightheaded. Tests conducted at GW found no evidence of another stroke or of seizures.
Fetterman’s victory over television personality Mehmet Oz in November flipped what had been a Republican seat, giving the Democratic caucus control of 51 seats in the Senate.
Reporting mental health problems was once an automatic deal-breaker for politicians: In 1972, Democrat Sen. Thomas Eagleton’s disclosure that he had been treated for depression ultimately spurred him to withdraw from seeking the vice presidency.
But as stigma has decreased, lawmakers have felt increasingly comfortable speaking out. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some 21 percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020. That’s 52.9 million people, or 1 in 5 adults.
Former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island is the one of the most notable examples of a lawmaker speaking about mental health. Kennedy has opened up about having bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder, and has run a nonprofit devoted to mental health, The Kennedy Forum, since 2013.
Tweeting Thursday, Kennedy said Fetterman was “once again demonstrating leadership through personal example. He set this example with his stroke treatment and is doing so now with his depression. Both conditions are very real, deserving of care, and can be deadly if left unattended.”
“It really marks a sea change in the stigma and attitudes that he can do this,” Kennedy said in an interview Thursday. “He’s gonna make a bigger difference just through this announcement and getting treatment than almost anything else he does this year in the Senate, truth be told.”
He said when he was in Congress, it wasn’t until he disclosed his own struggles with mental health and addiction issues that many of his own congressional colleagues told him about their struggles. They did so, he said, “because of the public nature of my seeking treatment.”
Former Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., who retired in 2009, also focused on mental health issues in Congress, drawing on his own struggles with alcoholism. He and Kennedy partnered on mental health and addiction issues during their time together in the House.
And former Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., briefly took leave from Congress in 2009 to seek treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center.
Last year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talked publicly about pressures from her anxiety related to negative social media.
The latest survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 32 percent of adults experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression in the last two weeks.
Still, some stigma persists: A 2019 American Psychiatric Association poll found more than one-third of American workers reported worrying about job consequences if they sought mental health care.
That survey found that while more than half of workers say they are at least somewhat comfortable discussing mental health openly with coworkers and supervisors; only about 1 in 5 is completely comfortable.
In July, the government launched a national three-digit hotline, 988, which can connect someone having a mental health crisis with a trained counselor.