Fetterman Checks In to Hospital for Treatment of Clinical Depression
WASHINGTON — Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who was hospitalized last week after feeling lightheaded, checked himself in to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday night to receive treatment for clinical depression, his office said on Thursday.
“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” Adam Jentleson, his chief of staff, said in a statement. He said that after undergoing an evaluation on Monday by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician in Congress, Mr. Fetterman followed the recommendation for inpatient care at Walter Reed.
“John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis,” Mr. Jentleson said.
The decision to seek help at Walter Reed underscored the challenges, both physical and emotional, that Mr. Fetterman has been dealing with since entering the Senate last month after a life-threatening stroke last year, a transition that has been vastly more difficult because of the strains of his recovery. Seeking treatment could place Mr. Fetterman — who was dogged by questions about his health throughout his campaign — at the center of a national conversation about mental health struggles that has become more public and urgent since the pandemic began.
That is not a role he naturally would have sought himself. “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,” his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, said in an email to supporters. “It’s not easy for anyone to be open about mental health challenges. But I am so proud of him for asking for help and taking steps to get the care he needs.”
She said that “our family is in for some difficult days ahead, and we ask for your compassion on the path to recovery” and added that she was “sad, and worried, as any wife and mother would be.”
A Divided Congress
The 118th Congress is underway, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding the Senate.
- A New Normal: The eruptions of Republican vitriol against President Biden during his State of the Union address underscored a new and notably coarse normal for the G.O.P.-led House.
- G.O.P. Legislative Agenda: Weeks into their chaotic House majority, Republican leaders have found themselves paralyzed on some of the biggest issues they promised to address.
- Social Security: Defending his plan to re-evaluate the federal retirement program, Senator Rick Scott of Florida is fueling a nasty feud among Republicans with implications for both the Senate and national politics.
- Bernie Sanders: After two unsuccessful runs for the presidency, the Vermont senator now leads the Senate health committee. The job gives him sweeping jurisdiction over issues he cares about.
For now, aides said, the primary focus is on his recovery. How Mr. Fetterman, 53, will seek to address a broader conversation about mental health will be up to him. It is not yet clear how long Mr. Fetterman will stay at Walter Reed, though aides anticipate it will be longer than a few days.
Since January, Mr. Fetterman has been trying to dig into his new job, attending caucus meetings and committee hearings, meeting with constituent groups and attending high-profile events like President Biden’s State of the Union address last week. He has been living alone in Washington during the week, while his wife and three children remain in Braddock, Pa.
The Senate and his colleagues in Washington have been trying to adjust with him: The sergeant-at-arms has arranged for live audio-to-text transcription for Mr. Fetterman’s committees and installed a monitor at his desk so he can follow proceedings with closed captioning. His Democratic colleagues in the Senate have been growing accustomed to communicating with him through a tablet that transcribes their words, technology he needs after suffering from auditory processing issues associated with his stroke.
But Mr. Fetterman has also been quietly struggling on a psychological level that is less obvious and harder for his colleagues to accommodate.
Mr. Fetterman was admitted to George Washington University Hospital last week after feeling unwell during a daylong Senate Democratic retreat. He spent two days in the stroke unit, where he underwent an M.R.I. and other tests that ruled out another stroke and remained free of any seizures, a spokesman said. He has been able to perform all parts of his job, but his latest health scare convinced Mr. Fetterman and his closest aides that he needed a better plan to take care of himself physically and emotionally.
After the life-changing stroke days before the Democratic primary last year, Mr. Fetterman briefly pared down his schedule to recover. But he continued his campaign in one of the most competitive and closely watched Senate races in the nation.
Now, the reality of having missed out on a crucial recovery period has become a source of pain and frustration for Mr. Fetterman and people close to him, who fear that he may suffer long-term and possibly permanent repercussions. His schedule as a freshman senator has meant that he has continued to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental.
“I stand by John Fetterman and his family,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. “This is an unimaginable challenge that he has faced in life. He deserves the very best in professional care, and I am sure he will get it.”
Mr. Durbin said he was confident Mr. Fetterman would be able to serve his full term despite the challenges and added that the country was evolving in its understanding of mental health.
“Mental illness was considered a curse, not a medical problem,” he said. “Thank God that has changed. I credit many of our returning veterans from Iraq and other theaters who have convinced us this is simple medical mental health care that many people need from time to time.”
He added: “There isn’t a single family that isn’t touched by it. And those who are touched by it and succeed really are very honest about it. I’m glad John has done that.”
That kind of support was unthinkable a few decades ago. Thomas F. Eagleton, a Democratic senator from Missouri, was forced to drop off the Democratic presidential ticket in 1972 after revelations of mental illness. Mr. Eagleton had been chosen as Senator George McGovern’s running mate that year, but he did not share with his team while being vetted that he had been hospitalized for depression and that his treatment involved electroshock therapy.
In an interview in 2006, Mr. McGovern said he regretted the decision to remove Mr. Eagleton from the ticket. “I didn’t know anything about mental illness,” he added. “Nobody did.”
During the Senate race last year in Pennsylvania, his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, seized on the issue of Mr. Fetterman’s physical health in an attempt to revive his struggling candidacy. He was not the only one; Republicans and conservative talk show hosts relentlessly attacked Mr. Fetterman and questioned whether he was fit to serve.
At the time, Mr. Fetterman said he was recovering quickly and living a normal life. His campaign aides insisted he was healthier than a vast majority of the aging Senate.
“I’m running a perfectly normal campaign,” Mr. Fetterman said in an interview with The New York Times in September. At another point he added, “I keep getting better and better, and I’m living a perfectly normal life.”
Carl Hulse contributed reporting.