Men don't generally talk about depression. Fetterman offers a step forward
Published in Health & Fitness
When Sen. John Fetterman announced in mid-February that he had entered Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to be treated for clinical depression, it was seen by many as a sign of progress in fighting mental health stigma, particularly in men.
Even as discussions of mental health increasingly enter the public conversation, aided both by public figures, such as Olympian Michael Phelps talking about his depression, and difficulties brought by the pandemic, men in particular still struggle to be open — and seek treatment.
In addition to Phelps, Fetterman joins a relatively small group of male public figures discussing depression.
"Talk about a stigma buster," said Christine Michaels, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Keystone PA, in reference to Fetterman's announcement. "I don't think he has any idea how much good he did. There are anti-stigma campaigns that get funded that couldn't do what he did," she said.
Evidence shows that talking openly about mental health concerns and educating people about mental illness can reduce stigma. And a 2018 survey of 14- to 22-year-olds, conducted by the Hopelab and Well Being Trust, found that a majority of those experiencing mental health issues scoured online resources, like social media and podcasts, for personal anecdotes about similar struggles.
"People can relate to him and identify with him. A lot of times, that's all it takes for someone who's depressed to get help," said Michaels.
One person dies every 11 minutes by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And suicide does not affect Americans equally: Men struggle more, as well as LGBTQ people compared to heterosexual individuals, and Native Americans compared to other races and ethnicities. And for every suicide, there are 275 people who consider it.
A CDC data brief in September reported that the number of people seeking mental health treatment since 2019 has increased, but that population was mostly women.
"Although it's a terrible situation, I love that he is sharing his journey about it," said Josie Badger, a consultant and disability rights advocate who recently started a commission to support legislation and change attitudes around men's mental health.
Fetterman's communications director, Joe Calvello, said in a statement last week that the senator was doing well as he continued treatment.
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