Friday, February 17, 2023

F ³: What Bravery Looks Like

Right now it is still dark and it is raining. I had intended to write about something on the lighter side today but I find that my mind is full of John Fetterman.

NEWS: Statement from Senator Fetterman's Office
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman's Chief of Staff, Adam Jentleson, on Thursday released the following statement:
"Last night, Senator John Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to receive treatment for clinical depression. While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks.
"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.
"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."

My heart goes out to him. I’m also glad he is being so open about this issue. 

Some years back, one of the lowest points in Board of Education history came when a former BOE candidate went after sitting Board Member Cindy Vaillancourt by prying into her personal health records and insinuating she was unfit. Attorney Mike Smith used a meeting of the Board of Education to launch his attack. 

He hit a nerve, but not the one he had been going for. Many in the community cried foul and stood up in support of Vaillancourt. I was one of them.

Here Is My Story, Mike Smith, 9/24/2016, Village Green/Town² 

Underlying Smith’s attack was an assumption that merely by raising the specter of anything related to Ms. Vaillancourt’s brain - -mental condition, seeking treatment, what constitutes disability or partial disability - - would be enough to disqualify her from public service. The calculation was based upon the power of the stigma that anything to do with brains and/or mental health carries in our culture.

It’s no wonder that many people choose to hide their own struggles or fear reaching out to get treatment. 

Do you know what they call people who seek treatment for mental health issues? They are family, friends, coworkers, perhaps your pastor, a local politician or your child's teacher. Do you know what they call people who don't seek treatment for mental health issues?


Too many people fear the stigma attached to getting help for depression and we lose them. We lose their talents, their love, their contributions to our community. - - Here Is My Story, Mike Smith

I’m rooting for John Fetterman not just because it’s a kind thing to do, but because his openness is a light for others who may be struggling. He’s not the first person in Washington to seek out mental health treatment by any means but he is one of a very few (if any?) brave enough to report it with such transparency. 

This week the Howard County Times ran a story about River Hill High School graduate Craig Selbrede who has created a web series called “Hurt” which is now available on YouTube and Sparkk TV. The web series is described as “fictionalized account of his experiences with the intersection of autism, suicide and mental health.” 

This quote from Selbrede touched me.

“Being mentally ill is just, well, ‘a lot,’ and most TV shows tackling it have made that abundantly clear to the point of doing more harm than good …”

Isn’t it enough to be experiencing one’s own personal challenges without being weighed down by our culture’s negative and distorted views at every turn? It’s already “a lot” as Selbrede so poignantly says here. 

So here’s a thought for your Friday. Whatever your political views, how you react to the news about John Fetterman really matters. It’s especially important if you have kids. They are watching. Your response tells them how you might react if they needed treatment for mental health issues. Your comments reveal whether or not you can be trusted.

In a piece from CNN Health this week by Deirdre McPhillips, the CDC’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Debra Houry, makes this plea:

“It’s critical to talk with our children about what they’re feeling and their concerns,” she said. “I’m urging our families to come together, look for signs, look for ways that you can have these conversations with your children. Get to know them. Have these routine conversations all the time.”

Many of the challenges facing youth health and well-being are “preventable,” Houry said. “When I look toward our young people’s future, I want to be filled with hope, not heartbreak.

Senator Fetterman’s wise and brave transparency about treatment for clinical depression is a teachable moment, and maybe not just for our children, but for ourselves

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