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How a Senator Overcame Depression with the Help of His Family and Treatment

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., opened up about his struggle with clinical depression and how he sought treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in an emotional interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Fetterman’s depression worsened after his stroke and election

Fetterman, who had a stroke in January 2023, said his depression became worse after he won a hard-fought Senate race in November 2023. He said he stopped getting out of bed and lost interest in everything. He felt like a national embarrassment after a poor performance in a debate with his Republican opponent.

“I knew at that moment that I was going to be considered—consider myself—like, a national embarrassment,” he said.

He also said that social media was the “accelerant” that made his depression worse, as he faced constant criticism and harassment online.

“Social media is a toxic cesspool,” he said. “It’s a place where people can say the most vile things to you and get away with it.”

Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed in February

Fetterman said he realized he needed help when he felt lightheaded and was hospitalized in early February. A week later, he checked himself into Walter Reed, where he stayed for more than six weeks.

“I’ll never forget the decision,” he said. “It’s like, you know … if I don’t do something to claim my life, that this could be, you know, tragic.”

How a Senator Overcame Depression with the Help of His Family and Treatment

He said he was skeptical and scared at first, but he decided to trust the doctors and the process. He underwent various therapies, including medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

He said he was ashamed of what he had done and did not see his children for the first three weeks of his treatment. He said he scared his family and his brother, who was his best friend.

“One of the most profound things,” he said, was “actually my brother, like, my best friend said, you know, he had a moment where he was scared that you may not be coming back.”

Fetterman’s family was his catalyst for recovery

Fetterman said his family’s love and support was the catalyst that sparked his recovery. He said his children visited him after three weeks and brought him Post-it notes with encouraging messages from his father, who had passed away a few years ago.

“They wrote dozens of notes and they put them all over my room,” he said. “And that was the moment where I was like, OK, I can do this.”

He said his wife, Gisele, was his rock and his hero throughout his ordeal. He said she never gave up on him and always believed in him.

“She’s the strongest person I know,” he said. “She’s the reason I’m here today.”

He also said he received support from his colleagues in the Senate, especially from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who called him every day to check on him.

“He was like a father figure to me,” he said. “He was so kind and compassionate.”

Fetterman is in remission and ready to return to work

Fetterman said he was discharged from Walter Reed in late March, after his doctor told him his depression was in remission. He said he felt like a new person, with a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

“I feel like I have a second chance at life,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer and a lot to fight for.”

He said he is looking forward to returning to work in the Senate later this month, where he plans to focus on issues such as health care, climate change, and criminal justice reform. He said he is also considering running for president in 2024, as he believes he has a unique perspective and vision for the country.

“I think I have a story to tell and a message to share,” he said. “I think I can inspire people who are going through what I went through, and show them that there is a way out of the darkness.”

He said he is grateful for the treatment he received and he urged anyone who is suffering from depression to seek help.

“I’m begging you, if you’re struggling, please get help,” he said. “It saved my life, and it can save yours too.”

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