Backlash surrounding Fetterman hospitalization shows mental health stigma

Written By Ana Bellamy, Staff Writer

Content warning: This article includes discussions around mental illness and hospitalization. If you or a friend are experiencing mental health issues, please seek support through the Resolve Crisis Center or dial 988. 

On February 15th, the United States Senator for Pennsylvania John Fetterman admitted himself to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C. to receive treatment for clinical depression. This announcement comes nearly a year after he had a stroke a few days before the primary election and a week after he was admitted to the hospital for light-headedness following his attendance at the State of the Union Address. 

The news about his most recent admittance received an outcry from the public. A lot of condolences and prayers were shared for the senator and his family. However, many of the responses were negative. Phrases such as “unfit to run his job”, “this was planned”, “he should have never run” “vegetable” and “suck it up” flood the comment sections of many of the posts. Many people on Facebook were “laughing and reacting” to the posts. This negative backlash astounds me, but unfortunately, it is not surprising.  The positive, hopeful interactions were buried by grown adults who are acting like bullies.  There was an overall lack of sympathy and compassion. This made me realize that the stigma surrounding mental health is still going strong. 

This negative stigma is caused by a misunderstanding of mental illnesses and ignorance of mental health as a whole. It causes people to not get help as soon as they can and to ignore their symptoms altogether. Sadly, embarrassment and harassment from friends, family, and even medical professionals happen, but it is not as common as one has been brought up to believe due to the negative stigma that has been shared through natural conversations and the media. 

Anyone can have depression. Teenagers, college kids, and the elderly are always at risk, especially people who have undergone life-changing events. Anyone who is successful with their career and anyone with a loving family that supports them can also have depression. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses in the world so why is it that these illnesses are not being taken seriously? 

United States senator John Fetterman is a person who wants to make sure his community is taken care of and has kept busy for half of his life. He is known locally for representing the middle class and combating the many struggles that surround it. During his time in Braddock, before he was the mayor, he helped bring together the Braddock Out-of-School Youth Program which prepares adults to get a GED and prepares people for the workforce. When he was the mayor of Braddock, Fetterman had helped to get violence off of the streets, opening up new businesses, organizations, better housing, and an urgent care center. He did all of that work in thirteen years, and in 2019 he was elected the governor of Pennsylvania until 2023.

Fetterman’s policies are progressive and very much needed. He aims to combat violence, corporate greed, and criminal justice reform. He wants to increase productivity and work opportunities and is an advocate for the rights of immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, and the LGBT+ and BIPOC communities. When Fetterman acquired a seat in the U.S senate, he was able to start combating these issues on a larger scale. He fights for the people who have been voiceless for so long. 

On top of his busy schedule and his family, he suffered a stroke which led to his hospitalization last year.  To call him “unfit to do his job” is unfair, especially if he has been working constantly all of these years. I would not be surprised if more elected officials do suffer from depression or anxiety due to the large amount of work they have to endure. 

Whenever a person becomes a figure with a large following it can take a toll on the person because that person has to keep up with a positive persona in front of the public eye, in person, and on social media. Public figures are urged to tell the public about their personal experience with mental health in order to further provoke followers to do the same and get help. This helps to break the stigma surrounding mental health, since even popular, well-successful people need help as well. However, they are always prone to online backlash from people simply because these people are meant to put on a happy persona for the public. 

Since this is a national story, I hope that many officials come to his aid. More awareness needs to be brought to the stigma surrounding mental health on a larger level. On a smaller level, I hope that the bullies on the internet that are speaking negatively about John Fetterman’s hospitalization soon understand that depression is not a joke. Some of those commenters probably have friends and family that struggle with their own mental health every day. 

John Fetterman is incredibly courageous for getting the help that he needed. It is important that this news was shared with the public. Speaking from personal experience, clinically depression is debilitating and it is scary, but getting the help that I needed was so worth it. Everyone has the strength within themselves to accept help and I urge anyone reading this to seek help if they are struggling.