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Depression and Politics

The World Health Organization states that about 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, a staggering statistic. Makes one wonder, with the political conventions going on the past couple of weeks, why we are not seeing more depression among those involved in politics – or are we?

The list, if you are able to ferret it out, is long. Tom Eagleton was forced out of running because he had electroshock therapy for his depression.  Mark Dayton who ran for governor of Minnesota and Lawton Chiles of Florida both disclosed they struggled with depression.  In the annals of history, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln both dealt with the “black dog.”

Just consider what candidates are put through day after day as they run for office:

hand-784077_1280Meeting hundreds of strangers daily, speaking at back-to-back events, having very little time for themselves.  And every day they are open to word attacks, hurt feelings, insults.  Talking about their normal human lives is a considered a no-no. In addition, consider the sleep deprivation, the crazy eating schedules and too much food and drink.  Or that they have to smile all the time or deal with rejection and that they live under the threat that one small mistake might ruin their career.  And with a depressive person, everything is personal and such simple remarks attack their very core.  For a person who struggles with the mental illness of depression all these things create an enormous burden.

And yet, when we see someone in politics who is suffering from depression, we are surprised. And most of the time we don’t know it because politicians, despite all we know about depression and mental illness, are still afraid to expose their suffering because there are people who just do not get it, just do not understand. You would also be hardpressed to find anything about depression in politicians in psychology databases.  (If you look up “narcissists in politics,” you’ll find plenty.)

Depression in politics is real, often only manifesting itself in the spouse or family members. Remember Betty Ford with alcohol and pill addition who described herself as  having no self esteem?  Tipper Gore touched the depths when her son was in a near fatal accident and the family had to deal with that grief in the public spotlight.  Kitty Dukakis wrestled with depression until she had to have shock treatment.

It’s ironic that these women were the ones who helped raise public awareness about depression as they were the collateral damage of a profession whose brutality leaves lives ruined without anyone giving a second thought.

This election year I will be looking through very different eyes when I see and hear the candidates.  Who knows what is behind the façade?

– Bernadette

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