Merlene Davis: McConnell should apologize to Judd, others battling mental illness

Herald-Leader columnistApril 10, 2013 

  • For help with depression

    If you or someone you know needs help with depression or other mental illness, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lexington, at (859) 272-7891 or go to Namilex.org.

When news broke Tuesday that a recording had been uncovered of a campaign strategy session in Louisville conducted by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his campaign aides, my first reaction was one of exasperation.

Here we go again.

On the audio, McConnell, the U.S. Senate minority leader, remains silent as his campaign aides reveal research they have conducted on potential Republican and Democratic opponents.

They laughed at remarks that actress and potential opponent Ashley Judd made in an interview about how depression affected her.

Silly me, I kept listening to hear McConnell say that such tactics were off limits.

Later, at a news conference at which he addressed the recording that was given to Mother Jones magazine by an unnamed source, I wanted to hear him apologize for the direction his campaign aides were mapping out.

Instead, McConnell came up with a vast left-wing conspiracy involving listening devices that he said were reflective of what his fellow Republican, Richard Nixon, had employed against Democrats. The best defense is a good offense, I guess.

On the recording, an aide can be heard talking about the wealth of information in the public domain about Judd's struggles with depression.

"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced," he said.

Then laughter can be heard as he plays a recording of Judd discussing her behavior before she received treatment.

Using a person's mental illness for your advantage "makes you look bad, small and unintelligent," said Kelli Gunning, operations director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Lexington.

One in four people experiences mental illness in their lifetime, and depression is the most common disorder, caused by a variety of reasons, Gunning said.

"It doesn't have anything to do with anyone's stability," she said.

We all should praise Judd for being courageous enough to write a book about her struggles and for being so open about it.

"She is addressing it and is aware of it," Gunning said. "She is not in the closet. All power to her for coming out and talking about it and opening up so other people who are suffering won't feel alone."

Judd has talked about a visit she made in 2006 to the Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas, to visit her sister, singer Wynonna, who was being treated for an eating disorder.

While there, the counselors noticed how affected Judd was by her sister's revelations. They approached her and suggested that she seek help as well.

In an interview with Glamour Magazine, Ashley Judd said she was treated for "co-dependence in my relationships; depression; blaming, raging, numbing, denying and minimizing my feelings. But because my addictions were behavioral, not chemical, I wouldn't have known to seek treatment.

"At Shades of Hope, my behaviors were treated like addictions. And those behaviors were killing me spiritually, the same as someone who is sitting on a corner with a bottle in a brown paper bag."

The stigma of mental illness won't go away until we put that illness in the same category as diabetes or cancer, Gunning said.

McConnell should come out and say, "'How can I help you,'" Gunning said. "'What can I do to make this a health issue? Gee, Ashley, how can we improve our mental health issues?'"

I couldn't agree more.

In a statement, Judd's spokeswoman, Cara Tripicchio, said, "This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C. We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter."

Because McConnell's campaign was so willing to use depression to his advantage, Gunning said, too many viable political candidates might turn away out of fear of being ostracized.

Not State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lex, however. On Facebook, Stein posted her personal and familial struggles with depression.

"As an elected official of 17 years," Stein wrote, "it has been incumbent of me to constantly advise my constituents and others across the state that I have been treated for depression all of my adult life, just as my mother should have been.

"It's a real disease, just like hypertension and diabetes.

"So set an example, Senator. Apologize to Ms. Judd for the jocular manner you treated depression," Stein wrote.

Amen.

Instead of shifting the spotlight to hidden bugs or liberal conspiracies, apologize. Sincerely.

Gunning said McConnell also should apologize to his constituents whose suffering he has belittled. And to those people who might have been about to seek treatment, but were discouraged by the actions of his campaign.

Gunning pleaded with those people to seek help anyway.

"Please don't let ill-informed, mal-intended people" interfere with your path to recovery, wholeness and wellness," she said. "Know the facts, seek help and get support that we would like to see come from informed leadership such as Sen. McConnell."

Step up and do what's right, McConnell. Do what is right.


FOR HELP WITH DEPRESSION

If you or someone you know needs help with depression or other mental illness, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lexington, at (859) 272-7891 or go to Namilex.org.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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