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Nancy Schimelpfening

Senator Famous for Depression Dies at 77

By March 5, 2007

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The Kansas City Star reports that former Missouri Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, who is most famous for his brief stint as the running mate of presidential candidate George McGovern, died Sunday morning at the age of 77 from heart and respiratory ailments.

In 1972, when depression was much more stigmatized than it is now, Sen. Eagleton, who at the time was the running mate of presidential candidate George McGovern, held a press conference to reveal that he had been treated for depression and had received ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), a treatment in which an electric current is applied to the brain in order to induce a seizure. He was forced to reveal his illness after an anonymous tip to the press gave him away and eventually he left the ticket.

Clark Hoyt, the reporter who broke the story, told Editor & Publisher, "I felt bad for him on a human level. But when you are talking about someone who is going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, that is something that should be reviewed."

As I look back at this event I feel a mixture of admiration and sadness. I admire him for his courage, but I feel sad for what it cost him.

Would things have been different if he were running today, when great strides have been made both in treating and understanding depression? Is being treated for depression a hindrance in doing a good job as president or vice-president? Abraham Lincoln was reported to have been dogged by clinical depression all his life, yet he is considered one of our greatest presidents. Would the fact that a candidate has had clinical depression influence your vote? Share your comments below.

You can read more about Sen. Eagleton from our U.S. Politics: Current Events Guide at About.com

March 7, 2007 at 3:47 am
(1) Deb in Minnesota says:

I have battled major depression all of my adult life and while I really wish I could say yes I would vote for a person who had a history of suffering from depression I know I could not. The disorder can be so debilitating and the stress of being president could bring on an episode of crippling depression at the worst possible time.

March 7, 2007 at 3:57 am
(2) Nancy in California says:

It would depend on the type and severity of the depression, if that could be disclosed. Wasn’t Lincoln supposed to be depressed? And if he wasn’t already wouldn’t the War have brought it on? It is said that depressive see things more realistically, at least that is what I read somewhere. That could be a politcal asset. If Eagleton made it to the senate, he could probably do the job.

March 7, 2007 at 4:13 am
(3) Marian says:

Yes, Lincoln did have depression. So did Winston Churchill — maybe he had Bipolar, not sure.

The question is, would it be better to have a person who had depression and knew it, faced up to it, or someone like Slobodan Milocevic, “The Butcher of the Balkans,” or G.W. Bush, “The Bloody Bush,” both of whom are so far away from from mental reality that they are extremely dangerous and brutal?

Some places in the world are saying they “have a right to sane leaders,” because of people like Milosevic. Who is/was more sane — Thomas Eagleton (or Churchill, or Lincoln), or George W. Bush?

This is not to say that everyone who has major depression has the kind of compassion and ability that Churchill and Lincoln had, or that Eagleton might have had, if if if if….

Everyone has to prove themselves to get my vote. Their record is what I vote on, not the name of their disorder — or, as in the case The Burning Bush, giving extra credence for their lack of a dx.

March 7, 2007 at 8:25 am
(4) Rebecca says:

Battling depression too often is a full time job in itself. How can a person be on call 24/7 for the American people AND be on the lookout for the signs of their personal style of depression? My answer is: No. Chemical imbalances and the science of balancing them are too imperfect.

March 7, 2007 at 9:24 am
(5) Steph says:

I have suffered from depression since I was 16 years old. I would definately say I would vote for a President who suffers from depression. I think all Presidents will develop some sort of circumstantial depression during their time in power due to pressure etc, and someone who has dealt with it before will know the warning signs and be able to do something about it before it goes to far. I actually think they would be a better President. Winston Churchill was a great leader and a Manic Depressive, but if you ask most British people, he was the best Prime Minister in history.

March 7, 2007 at 9:25 am
(6) Bob says:

On the one hand, someone with depression could serve in high office, what with the increased awareness and treatment options compared to Sen. Eagleton’s day. On the other hand, today’s media environment (24-hour cable news, talk radio, internet) would make it very hard, if not impossible, to get in a position to run for — and stay in — higher office.

March 7, 2007 at 2:46 pm
(7) Natasha says:

I think someone who is being successfully treated for depression is actually in a great position to be president. Depression is highly treatable and someone under the care of a skilled psychiatrist will be able to monitor the illness. Much like our current VP who has heart and circulation trouble — no-one has said he’s unfit to be VP since he’s at very high risk for stroke!

March 7, 2007 at 4:13 pm
(8) chris says:

I totally agree with Natasha! I have suffered from depression for many many eyars now. I have also been receiving help for it as well. I would not hesitate to vote for someone who suffered from depression as long as I believed in their views. I feel that some one can be treated sucessfully for depression just as well as someone can for what the VP is being treated for. Not to mention the fact that someone being treated for depression might have a better handle on themselves than someone else.

March 7, 2007 at 4:50 pm
(9) Mary says:

I would definitely vote for someone who has suffered from depression, unless they exhibited clearly inappropriate behavior. I would base my decision on their qualifications and record, not on their medical history. Would people be afraid to vote for someone who survived cancer? How could Eagleton have made it to the Senate if his depression was that debilitating? I am so sick and tired of people judging others because they suffer from some sort of depression. There is still a tremendous stigma attached to being clinically depressed or manic. I know because I have suffered from depression since I was in my teens and am now middle-aged. I have lost a job due to it (my employers found out that I suffered from depression), and I’ve lost friends when they found out that I suffer from it. I think a lot of the prejudice is due to ignorance. It is still something that people seem to want to sweep under the carpet and ignore. I just wish that more people would get involved in educating the public about depression. It would also help if more people like Jane Pauley would step forward and talk about their battles with depression and bipolar disorder.

March 7, 2007 at 5:32 pm
(10) Sue Watson says:

Who hasn’t been depressed at one time or another? The person who acknowledges he/she has depression and gets treatment is the smartest person. They are much stronger than the one that does nothing about it, except to load up on drugs or drink!!!

BUT.. I think it all depends on what the cause is.. Is it situational or is it genetic or self-inflicted? I believe that should be the deciding factor for determining who will successfully make a good president.

Of course with all of the party differences that abound, and with people who don’t bother to learn about the issues involved; and especially the media that loves to get their name in the news by back lashing every move that a president makes, there will always be someone(s) who doesn’t like a our national leader! Unfortunately that is the stupidity of human nature. As I once heard, “one thing that we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history!”

March 7, 2007 at 7:41 pm
(11) Bob Anderson says:

I suffer but I am managing my illness with medication and lifestyle changes.I would like to run for Senate.I would not hide my illness and if the media wants to talk about it I would welcome the discussion.I would use this to help break the stigma in this country and whether I won or lost the election,I could use the media to give the illness the proper awearness it deserves.I feel it would be a win win situation.I feel that anyone who has suffered, has the drive and compassion to make a difference in this country.The upside of this illness gives us a real passion to help people because we know how low a person can feel when we are suffering,but we also appreciate the finer things in life when we are feeling good.I think we have a special appreciation for people of all walks of life.We realize all people have special gifts and talents.We are in a good position to make a significance to our country.

March 7, 2007 at 10:38 pm
(12) Shaye says:

YES!!! I have been depressed most of my life. It was never properly diagnosed or treated until about 6 years ago, I am 57! With my treatments, I recognize and can ‘correct’ my behaviors sooner. Plus I recognize the same behaviors in people who are not yet diagnosed. Besides depression is like cancer; there are several different ‘varieties’ and it affects people differently. I’d rather KNOW the politician KNOWS he/she has depression and is being treated for it, than someone ‘sneaking’ into office and being symptomatic! I agree that there are many people with clinical depression in all walks of life, who function superbly! And it would be a great public and media forum for someone to educate the public about depression and other mental illnesses, noting that depression is not the dirty word it once was, the same way we’ve been educated about cancer, etc. Most people experienced enough to be president probably have some sort of ‘health challenge’ anyway, like Mr. Cheney: we accept that, why NOT mild mental health too?
Side note: In my opinion, I’ve decided that ANYONE who willingly wants to be the American president in this day & time- must be a little ‘crazy’ anyway.

March 8, 2007 at 5:02 pm
(13) catherine tucker says:

Yes I would definitely vote for someone with depression. The depressed person is sometimes depressed because of their difficult circumstances, which include poor housing, low-paid work or family problems. All these issues need to be addressed by all governments, so a depressed president might have a greater social awareness of how economic circumstances effects people, their lives and their productiveness, and hence the productivness of the country. Greater equality generally makes for a happier and less crime ridden society!!! Just go New Zealand and see their society!

March 17, 2007 at 2:45 pm
(14) allan says:

You can’t get elected president if you’re black, asian, hispanic, or a woman. (good luck to obama & hillary.)

Or if you’re jewish, moslem, buddhist, athiest, agnostic, or heaven forbid, Santeria. You have to be christian and probably some sort of born-again evangelical or fundamentalist. Kennedy was a big deal cuz he was Catholic – egads.

There’s no way you can get elected if you’re a pot smoker – W has made it ok for former pot smokers as long as they say it was a mistake. You pretty much have to give up drinking. Obama gave up cigarette smoking. Don’t even think about coke or meth.

If you’ve hired illegal aliens, you’re out. Being arrested for drunk driving – you need a guy like Al Gonzales to erase that for you.

OK so we’re down to what, 5% of the population? Are they representative of America? Do they resemble the average american? I don’t think so.

OK so depression is just another way to throw out good people. So sometimes we get presidents who suffer from untreated depression instead of ones who’ve been treated.

You ought to throw out people who show signs of being sociopath.

May 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm
(15) Ed says:

The best comment I ever heard about mental illness came from of all people, George Wallace. Wallace had a 10% veteran disability for combat fatigue. Sen Wayne Morse made a point of bringing it up and Wallace met it headon. He said, “I have a piece of paper that says I have 90% of my faculties, I defy you to find a doctor in this country that would say that for Wayne Morse. The Eagleton case was a disgrace.

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