Stresses of campaigning can bring on depression for some
Friday, June 23, 2006
The pressures of politics and campaigning could have contributed to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan’s depression and his reason for dropping out of the race for governor, say some mental health experts.
Duncan (D) announced that he would withdraw from the race because he is suffering from clinical depression.
‘‘Over the past couple of months, it became clear this was more than the usual wear and tear of campaigning,” he said. ‘‘My family has battled this disease, and it has been very difficult right now.”
Depression is a natural reaction to the harsh nature of waging a political campaign, said Renana Brooks, a psychologist and therapist who has treated politicians at her Washington practice.
‘‘Any normal person should be depressed by being in politics,” she said. ‘‘You almost have to have a pathology not to be depressed.”
Political campaigns mean nonstop abuse from opponents, which can be hard for most people to take, Brooks said. ‘‘It’s almost like being in high school and being bullied. You’re constantly being told that what you do is not good. Even if you get positive feedback, the value of a negative insult is way more powerful.”
While pressure from the campaign could have affected Duncan’s condition, it probably did not cause it, said Sharon Friedman, a licensed social worker and executive director of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County.
‘‘If a person is dealing with depression and there are myriads of pressure upon him, it could make it worse, just like if you have a heart condition, stress could make it worse,” she said. ‘‘I don’t think we can say it was the campaign that caused this.”
In others, stress could trigger depression, he said: ‘‘Depression can come on in different ways,” he said. ‘‘One type is physiological. A person may have that genetic tendency. Can it be triggered by pressure or sadness or a traumatic life event? It probably can.”
Brooks said politicians must harden themselves and learn to ignore, or laugh in the face of bullying to cope with campaign attacks.
‘‘I treat a lot of politicians,” she said. ‘‘The more they really care about their constituents, the more they are affected.”
Brooks said it was brave of Duncan to announce his diagnosis, but it may not have been the safest move. That’s especially true if Duncan wants to continue in politics.
It also found that 31 percent believe that people with mood disorders are not stable enough to hold positions of authority in fields like law enforcement and government, while half feel that people should publicly disclose such diagnoses if they seek office.
Approximately 20.9 million American adults suffer from depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some types of depression run in families, according to the institute.
Duncan said that his family has also suffered from the illness.
‘‘This illness, this depression is not something that someone in a certain social class suffers from, or a certain part of the county,” Friedman said. ‘‘Depression is something that touches everyone.”
The mental health workers stressed that depression is a treatable condition.
‘‘People live with depression and with the right treatment can live energetic and productive lives,” Friedman said.