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US Sen. John Fetterman checks into hospital for depression treatment

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA). (Official portrait)
February 17, 2023

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman has checked himself into the hospital to receive treatment for clinical depression, his office announced Thursday.

Fetterman’s Chief of Staff Adam Jentleson said in a statement that Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday night.

“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” Jentleson said.

Fetterman was evaluated Monday by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of Congress.

“Yesterday, Dr. Monahan recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed. John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis,” Jentleson said. “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.”

Fetterman suffered a near-fatal stroke in May and has since had auditory processing issues related to the stroke.

Earlier this month, Fetterman was hospitalized after feeling lightheaded while attending a Senate Democratic retreat. While hospitalized then, he underwent several tests, and doctors ruled out another stroke.

Fetterman’s wife Gisele, who first noticed Fetterman’s stroke symptoms in May, tweeted Thursday that she was proud of her husband for taking initiative with his health. She asked for privacy, adding that this is a difficult time for the Fetterman family.

“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,” Gisele Fetterman said on Twitter. “I’m so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs.

“Take care of yourselves. Hold your loved ones close, you are not alone.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey posted messages of support on social media.

Fetterman “has shown us what it means to prioritize your health and wellness while continuing to serve the people of Pennsylvania,” Gainey wrote. “Senator Fetterman’s public acknowledgment of the treatment he is getting will help break down the stigma around Mental Health and remind everyone that it can get better, especially when you get professional help.”

According to the American Stroke Association, depression is common for stroke survivors, and is often caused by biochemical changes in the brain resulting from a stroke.

A 2016 scientific statement from the ASA indicates that about one-third of stroke survivors experience depression, compared to 5% — 13% of adults without stroke.

Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, said that stroke survivors have the highest risk of depression in the first year following a stroke.

Ovbiagele said depression following a stroke is typically caused by two factors: damaged brain cells caused by the stroke itself, and psycho-social issues that survivors can have because they are still having difficulties recovering to their normal routines. He said psycho-social issues are more common.

As a result of the stroke, Fetterman continues to have auditory processing issues, and he has used a tablet with closed captioning on the Senate floor.

Ovbiagele said he expects psycho-social issues are only magnified for a person in Fetterman’s position as a senator.

“Recovering from a stroke out of the limelight is challenging enough, but trying to recover under that kind of scrutiny and those kinds of expectations, I can only imagine how the added variables might impact that recovery.”

Clinical depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder, is a more severe form of depression compared to mild or persistent depression, according to the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic. The clinic says symptoms of clinical depression are usually severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities such as work.

Even severe clinical depression symptoms usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Ovbiagele said it is important to be proactive when confronting post-stroke depression, and he commended Fetterman for seeking treatment. He said leaving depression untreated after strokes can lead to a higher risk of new strokes and a higher mortality rate.

“Depression gets in the way of their recovery,” he said of stroke survivors. “The sooner they recognize it, the faster they are on their way to recovery.”

Bipartisan support for Fetterman has poured in from across the region and country.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Fetterman “is getting the help he needs” and is expected to return soon, but he declined to answer questions about Fetterman’s condition.

The Democratic caucus is “totally behind him,” Schumer said.

Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota acknowledged he doesn’t know Fetterman very well yet but said senators were hoping and praying for his recovery.

“He’s been through a lot physically and mentally,” Thune said. “He’s got to take care of himself and his family. And I think everybody supports that.”

Former Congressman Conor Lamb praised Fetterman and criticized anyone who was attacking him for seeking out mental health treatment. Lamb, a Marine vet who ran against Fetterman in the Democratic Senate primary, said it was normal for Marines to take themselves off the job when they were struggling mentally.

“I’ve seen it. It’s encouraged. Leaving no one behind means helping them get back to 100%, whether @JohnFetterman or anyone,” tweeted Lamb. “Amazing all the tough guys commenting today who don’t know how real men deal with these issues.”


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