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mental health awareness

John Fetterman encourages people to seek help for depression: 'You can get better'

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) has returned to the Senate following treatment for clinical depression, and told NPR he's hoping that by talking about his mental health, it will help others who might be hesitant to seek help.

"I was so depressed that I didn't even realize I was depressed," he said during an interview with Scott Detrow. "I didn't even understand it. This, to me, just became the new normal." Fetterman said he wasn't eating or drinking enough and lost 25 pounds, and at times would also "say things, incoherent things, and I would become kind of just [disoriented], and getting lost walking around in Washington."

Fetterman won his Senate seat in November, defeating celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and giving Democrats an important win that helped secure control of the Senate. After his victory, "I still felt that depression — like, I felt lost," he said. "I wasn't elated. I wasn't happy about it. I was relieved that it was over."

Ahead of the Democratic primary, Fetterman had a stroke, and he said that, coupled with stress, a hard campaign, and a barrage of attack ads, formed "a perfect storm." By mid-February, he realized he needed to seek treatment, but said he was second-guessing himself even as he prepared to check into the hospital on his son's 14th birthday. "I always get emotional just thinking about it," he said. "I think back [to] when I was 14 years old, what if this would have been what happened to me?"

During treatment, Fetterman said he focused on how his depression affected his family and constituents, and it was "about me redeeming, trying to redeem myself in their eyes." With his depression now in remission, Fetterman told Detrow he is "really committed to ... letting people know if anyone has any of these feelings, there's a path, and you can get better."

When he was in "the throes of depression," Fetterman said he was "not the kind of senator that was deserved by Pennsylvanians. I wasn't the kind of partner that I owe to my wife, Gisele, or to my children, Karl, Grace, and August." He feels "honored to have the ability to try to pay it forward, because I was blessed in my opportunities," and encouraged those who have depression to get help. "If I'd had done that years ago, I would not have had to put my family and myself and my colleagues [through] that if I had gotten help," he said. "So if you suffer from it, you have an opportunity to get rid of it. And I didn't believe it. But right now I'm the guy that didn't believe that I could get rid of my depression. And now I did."