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Posted by on Jun 12, 2011 in Politics | 7 comments

Politics, Mental Health and America’s Obsession With Sex

America is unforgiving about mental illness and its politicians. Well, maybe it’s the media that are unforgiving. Or the opposition.

Exhibit A: Thomas Eagleton, whose disclosure of depression cost him the vice presidential slot:

Eagleton divulged that “on three occasions in my life, I have voluntarily gone into hospitals as result of nervous exhaustion and fatigue.” He added that he had undergone electric-shock therapy for depression on two of those visits …

Days after the South Dakota press conference, Eagleton described his illness in detail in San Francisco before a gathering of wealthy fundraisers. One asked if McGovern could lose the election in the time “it would take to educate the American public that mental illness could be treated and cured,” according to an account in The Chronicle. Eagleton replied that he didn’t have the statistics, “but I know it is a fact that millions of American have periods of depression – of having the blues, being down in the dumps.”

Even McGovern wasn’t sure how the public would react. He may have misjudged. A Time magazine poll taken at the time found that 77 percent of the respondents said “Eagleton’s medical record would not affect their vote.” Eagleton left the ticket 18 days after joining it. (SFGate, 2008)

Exhibit B: Anthony Weiner.

Anyone with a passing understanding of mental illness understands that Weiner has psychological issues. And were he to be employed in any profession other than American politics, his taking a leave of absence to deal with mental health should be, no pun intended, a no-brainer.

After all, extended leaves of absence for physical health are not unknown in Congressional circles. See Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ), Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sen. Karl Mundt (R-SD) and Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI). Neither are they unheard of for drug and alcohol: Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL). (Senates Absent For Extended Periods, 1942-2001 – pdf)

But mental illness related to sex? Good luck with that, Congressman Weiner, even though (at this writing) the lapses have been “moral”, not “legal”. However, the jackals are howling.

Rather than derision, I think Weiner deserves a nod for publicly acknowledging that his behavior was not only unacceptable but that it is treatable, not necessarily a character flaw. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll take a small step towards getting our collective noses out of political and celebrity bedrooms.

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