Well-Being Mental Health

8 lawmakers who have publicly struggled with mental health

Sen. Fetterman, Sen. Smith and Rep. Moulton have all spoken about their mental health struggles.
Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for Senate John Fetterman
Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for Senate John Fetterman speaks during a rally for Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for Governor Josh Shapiro at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa., on Sunday, November 6, 2022. Greg Nash

Story at a glance

  • Sen. John Fetterman checked himself in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday night to receive treatment for depression.

  • The freshman senator has battled depression “on and off” throughout his life, and it turned severe several weeks ago, according to his office.

  • Fetterman is not the first elected official who has publicly struggled with their mental health.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) checked himself into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday night to receive treatment for clinical depression, his office announced Thursday.  

Fetterman’s decision to seek help comes a month after entering the Senate after suffering from an almost fatal stroke last year. And while Fetterman has experienced depression “on and off” throughout his life, it became severe in recent weeks, according to his chief of staff Adam Jentleson.  

Fetterman is not the first elected official to face mental health struggles; one out of five Americans experiences a mental illness every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

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Here are eight elected officials who have also publicly struggled with their mental health:  

Patrick Kennedy

Kennedy, a former U.S. rep from Rhode Island, from Rhode Island, first publicly admitted to struggling with substance use and bipolar disorder in 2006. In May of that year, the congressman ran his car into a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol at 2:45 in the morning, under the mistaken belief that he was late for a vote.  

The next day, Kennedy held a press conference and admitted to struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, as well as bipolar disorder. 

Since, Kennedy has become a staunch advocate for mental health care and founded The Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit organization aimed at sparking national conversations about mental health and addiction.

On Thursday, Kennedy offered his support to Fetterman in a statement to The Hill: “I have deep respect for Senator Fetterman and admire the courageous example he set today. Mental health challenges do not discriminate, even when you are an elected Senator. As a former congressman who sought treatment when I was in office, I can only hope that Pennsylvania’s and the country recognize that this is strength in leadership.”

Seth Moulton

The former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) served four tours in Iraq before entering politics in 2014. A year after arriving home, Moulton started therapy to help with post-traumatic stress disorder linked to his service. He publicly spoke about his struggles with PTSD in 2019, shortly before introducing a proposal to expand mental health services available to military members.  

Tina Smith

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) battled depression in her 30s and spoke about her experience in 2019 in support of legislation to expand access to mental health care. The lawmaker also praised Fetterman for his decision to seek help on Thursday.  

“In the short time I’ve worked with John Fetterman, I’ve been struck by his resilience and heart. John is doing exactly what he should do, which is seek help,” Smith tweeted. “ Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness, something that John is demonstrating for all of us.” 

Ritchie Torres 

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) has been candid about his personal struggles with mental health. He has discussed his long battle with depression in interviews, along with his antidepressant treatment. Torres has been an advocate for improving access to mental health care services.

“I admire Senator John Fetterman for openly seeking treatment for depression at Walter Reed. Back in 2010, I was hospitalized for depression. I would not be alive, let alone in Congress, were it not for mental health care,” Torres tweeted today.

Ruben Gallego

First elected to Congress in 2014, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is a Marine Corps combat veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an infantryman. While there, his unit sustained heavy casualties. Gallego has been open about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and published a memoir detailing his experience serving and what it was like coming home.

Lawton Chiles

Former Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) served in the U.S. Senate and as governor of Florida. When running for governor in 1990, Chiles was open about taking Prozac for depression and mood swings and encouraged others with the condition to seek help. According to reports, Chiles’ depression began following a heart surgery in 1985. The politician’s openness about his mental health was relatively rare at the time.

Lynn Rivers

Former Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) was the first openly bipolar member of Congress. Rivers revealed she had been living with the condition for 20 years while campaigning in 1994, having been diagnosed at age 21. She served from 1995 to 2002. The politician has said she aims to be a model for people living with mental illness. 

Thomas Eagleton

Former Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.) served in Congress from 1967 to 1987. He was selected as a running mate for presidential Democratic nominee George McGovern in 1972. Shortly after the announcement, it was made public that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression three times in the 1960s and had undergone electroshock therapy, a medical history he had not disclosed to McGovern. The candidate was forthcoming about his treatment after the details were made public. Eagleton ultimately bowed to pressure and withdrew from the ticket 18 days after being selected. The senator went on to serve two more terms.

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