When President Barack Obama was asked about the future of the Democratic party in a final White House interview, without hesitation he said one name: Missouri’s Jason Kander.
Kander has the zest and charisma to enthrall voters, and can do so even across party lines, not unlike Obama in his own early years. He was the first millennial to hold a statewide office, two-term Missouri legislator, secretary of state, best-selling author and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
This month, Kander issued a wrenching statement. Citing post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and depression from his time as an Army captain, Kander dropped his bid to become the next mayor of Kansas City. He’s also stepping back from his leadership role in Let America Vote, the nonprofit organization he founded to register voters and fight voter suppression.
“After 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me,” Kander said.
Among the thousands of shares and comments about Kander’s announcement, only a few dared to question how Kander’s four-month intelligence mission could result in such a condition. They were quickly silenced. Instead, Kander was widely lauded for his bravery and candor in speaking out.
But imagine if Jason Kander hadn’t been an Army veteran? Without the distinction of service, he’d be less sympathetically supported. He likely wouldn’t be urged to make a speedy return to office, a subject he alluded to in his statement.
That’s because depression still carries a stigma, despite the many advances in public awareness about suicide and depression in general, and despite scientific breakthroughs in medicines and therapies that are restoring so many who suffer from depression to stable lives.
Military service can help to distance the person from the stigma of mental health struggles, although that is far from always the case. Society is still stingy with whom we offer grace. Depression is still too often seen as a character flaw.
Admitting to the ravages of PTSD, the debilitating cycles of depression, is not any more noble because the trauma was inflicted in defense of the nation rather than by violent incidents childhood or sexual trauma.
Still, Kander hesitated to speak out, knowing that any admission of mental health problems can easily upend a political career.
Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton in 1972 Eagleton was chosen to be the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. After his bouts with depression — and hospitalizations that included electroshock therapy — were publicized, he withdrew from the race.
By coincidence, in 2016 Kander narrowly lost the election for Eagleton’s old Senate seat.
Scholars have argued convincingly that Abraham Lincoln’s “melancholy” was clinical depression. He was known for weeping in public, suicidal ruminations and withdrawing from others throughout his life.
But the president who led the victorious Union in the Civil War and freed the slaves was surely up to the job. Some have argued that Lincoln’s inward focus, his brooding negativity and lifelong efforts against what was occurring to his physical body, helped forge his deep insights as well as the aspects of his character that made him a national hero.
This is not to wish ill mental health upon anyone. But Lincoln, perhaps more than other political figure past or present, shows that we still have a long way to go in understanding mental health and in how we view those in the grip of depression.
Email Mary Sanchez at email@example.com.