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Mental Illness: Political Candidates Are Not Immune From Stigma


In the NAMI Blog this week, Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness writes: “Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.”

Fitzpatrick calls for dialogue on the nation’s mental health crisis during the closing weeks of Election 2010, encouraging voters to look beyond “horse race” headlines and candidate attack ads. “Personally, as a former state legislator, I have always found it most important to ask people what they are for rather than against in order to build common ground.”

In a political mud-slinging story also published this week in the new issue of the NAMI Advocate magazine, NAMI examines stigma surrounding mental illness and candidates for public office. "Presidents, governors and legislators are not immune” from mental health problems the article notes.

The most infamous examples of stigma-slinging occurred against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater during the 1964 presidential campaign and Senator Thomas Eagleton during the 1972 campaign. In part, Goldwater had experienced two “nervous breakdowns” in his early business career. Eagleton was forced to withdraw as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate because of a history of treatment for depression.

The NAMI Advocate story notes that two of the four American presidents carved on Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, lived with depression. Examples of the 2010 Election 2010:

• During Minnesota’s primary elections earlier this year to nominate candidates for governor, the Minneapolis Tribune slung “stigma with a twist” by asking every candidate whether they ever had been treated for depression—after candidate Mark Dayton, a former U.S. Senator, disclosed a history of depression. Backlash was swift. NAMI Minnesota and others blasted the newspaper for singling out mental illness and discouraging people from seeking help because of the fear of inquisition.

• Last week, the Contra Costa Times reported an attack upon the incumbent mayor of Richmond, California based on a past episode of depression that left her unable to work and causing her to seek relief in bankruptcy from student loans. Adding insult to injury, the attack occurred during national observations of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which includes efforts to eliminate stigma.

About NAMI
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI has over 1100 state and local affiliates that engage in research, education, support and advocacy. NAMI is a non-partisan, non-profit organization and does not endorse political candidates. Previous NAMI election alerts: State Grades: 21 Ds, 6 Fs ; State Suicide Rates;Top 10 States; Mental Health Cuts;Number of People w/ Mental Illness in Each State; Percent Served by SMHA; Disability Income and State Housing Costs. On the web:;;

NAMI Advocate
Join NAMI as a member to receive the full print magazine or access to it on the NAMI Website. NAMI also publishes a monthly e-Advocate newsletter with open access on the
NAMI website. In addition to politics and stigma, the current issue of the magazine includes articles titled “What are They Thinking?” on the latest trends in research and diagnosis, “Athletes and Mental Illness: Major League Baseball Steps Up to the Plate,” and “The Role of Service Animals in Recovery.”


 mental illness
 NAMI Advocate magazine
 Election 2010

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