Mental Health
John Fetterman Victory Speech

John Fetterman

He set out to be the senator from Pennsylvania — not a spokesman for people with disabilities, which he unintentionally became after suffering a life-threatening stroke, which became an issue in the Senate race and has posed challenges as he adapted to his role in the Senate.

And then last week, he announced that he was checking into the hospital to be treated for clinical depression, which unintentionally makes him something of a symbol, if nothing else, of the mental health issue in politics, which is hardly a role anyone would seek.

But one which needs a spokesperson.

It was in 1972 that a fine senator, Tom Eagleton, was bounced from the Democratic ticket (he had been nominated as the vice presidential candidate, to run with George McGovern) when it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for treatment of depression. It was political poison. He was quickly replaced as a candidate.

In 1988, a rumor was intentionally spread that Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president, had suffered from depression and been treated for it after losing a reelection campaign. I was his campaign manager; it wasn't true. He had never been seen by a psychiatrist. Jokingly, one might say, anyone who runs for president should be. But he hadn't.

Nonetheless, the rumor, intentionally spread by the Republicans, wouldn't stop. Then President Ronald Reagan referenced it in a press conference, and we had no choice but to deny it. "Dukakis not crazy; more at 11 ... " The news was almost that bad. We dropped half a dozen points overnight. On a rumor that wasn't true. Political poison of the worst sort.

Mental health is a crisis that never gets the attention it deserves in part because no one wants to volunteer to be the spokesperson. But volunteers are desperately needed. Even unintentional ones, maybe especially so.

According to his wife, there is no one less interested in talking about his own health at this point that John Fetterman, who would much prefer to be talking about the problems facing his constituents.

In an email to constituents, she made clear what the family was going through: "After what he's been through in the past year, there's probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John."

But asking for help, and doing so publicly, is as brave and important an act as any a senator could do.

His wife said she was proud of him. The rest of us should be grateful.

It's a sort of sad coincidence that the senator should be checking in to the hospital on the same day that the family of super macho hero Bruce Willis reveals his devastating diagnosis of dementia. There are so many illnesses that are verboten, that need to be discussed, that need to be the subject of some sunshine and light. We have teenagers suffering from anxiety and isolation while their parents struggle with depression and their grandparents with fears of dementia. And yet it still takes a celebrity diagnosis to capture our attention, to give us a spokesperson, to trigger discussions that are long overdue.

John Fetterman is lucky in one respect. He will receive excellent care. And when he returns to the Senate, as he will, he will be in a better position to help ensure that others who face similar challenges are able to receive the compassionate care that they deserve as well. That is what is meant to be.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Is America's Pandemic Derangement A Permanent Condition?

A few months ago, I ran into a recently-retired judge, a former prosecutor and friendly acquaintance, at the grocery store. I asked him what he thought was causing the wave of homicides and shooting incidents around the city. Even in our normally safe, quiet neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to hear fusillades of gunfire in the night—semi-automatic pistols by the sound of them.

“Damned if I know,” he said. “Probably the same thing that’s making everybody drive like lunatics.”

It’s true. In my travels around town, it’s not uncommon to be passed on a double yellow line on residential streets. Thirty seconds later, you pull up behind them gunning their engines at a stoplight. Everybody drives like they’re in Dallas, with lots of tailgating and horn-blowing. Granted, I’m an old duffer in no particular hurry, but people run so many red lights that it’s definitely a good idea to look both ways on green.

One-finger salutes are ill-advised, as many of these knuckleheads go around heavily armed.

Did I mention a safe neighborhood? Last week there was a homicide at a bar a couple of blocks from our house. The doorman, a universally popular fellow, told a guy he couldn’t carry his drink outside. The idiot came back with a pistol and shot him dead. They showed a remarkably clear photo of the killer on TV and arrested him the next morning—a 23-year-old from across the river.

Two lives destroyed over nothing.

But it’s not just where I live. (Little Rock.) Increasingly bad behavior is nationwide. Auto fatalities, to stick with a relatively non-politicized issue for the moment, are up sharply since the Covid pandemic began. Although traffic volumes diminished with many working from home (or not working), car crash deaths rose fully 18.4 percent in 2021.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “the main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.” It appears that some of the same jerks who resented face masks compensated by unbuckling their seat bels.

Why am I not surprised?

“If there was a way to make the driving experience less safe for drivers, less safe for passengers, or less safe for everyone else on the road,” Matt Yglesias comments “people did it.”

At the nation’s airports, there has been an epidemic of unruly passenger behavior—people punching gate attendants, slapping flight attendants, even trying to break into cockpits. Mostly over face masks.

May I offer you another cocktail, sir?

Elsewhere, drug overdose fatalities are up, there’s been an increase in attacks on health care workers, and schools across the country report a sharp uptick in disruptive behavior by students.

A substantial proportion of our fellow Americans are simply losing it. There’s even been a rise in comedian-slapping at the Oscars.

Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan wonders why: “In 2020, the U.S. murder rate rose by nearly a third, the biggest increase on record, then rose again in 2021. Car thefts spiked 14 percent last year, and carjackings have surged in various cities. And if there were a national tracker of school-board-meeting hissy fits, it would be heaving with data points right now.”

Indeed, it’s no longer shocking to hear of school board members receiving death threats—a dubious honor that used to be reserved for such minor public figures as newspaper columnists.

Maybe I’m losing my edge, however, as it’s been months since anybody has vowed to murder me (I do block threatening emailers). Personal abuse, however, has risen sharply. Name-calling is way up, and reading comprehension is down. It’s remarkable how few people can follow an argument that hits their personal hot spots.

Quote something our former president has said in praise of noted humanitarian Vladimir Putin and you’re a “liar!" afflicted with “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” An awful lot of these people sound like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginny, i.e. like cranks haunted by imaginary conspiracies and dreaming of vengeance.

For the most part, I agree with The Atlantic’s Khazan that the “rage, frustration, and stress” coursing through American society have a lot to do with Covid, and attendant feelings of fear, frustration and sorrow.

Loneliness too.

“The pandemic” she writes, “loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general.” Most experts she consulted—psychiatrists, criminologists, and social historians—believe that as our social interactions return to normal, our collective behavior will also improve.

Color me skeptical, but I think that the decay of journalism in the age of Fox News and the derangements of social media have done permanent harm. Mere facts no longer persuade.. The propaganda term “Fake News” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Millions believe nothing they don’t wish to believe. They have utter contempt for anybody who disagrees.

That won’t change painlessly.