The Black Dog

Tipper Gore Talks About Her Battle With Depression

It is a subject of intense interest to millions and of personal interest to the reporter, Mike Wallace, and also to Tipper Gore. Winston Churchill called it the black dog. President Abraham Lincoln suffered from it so badly that he said "I am now the most miserable man living."

It is clinical depression. Less than three decades ago depression was shrouded in secrecy - a skeleton in the closet triggering guilt, shame and stigma. But Tipper Gore is using her own experience to try to change all that.


In 1972, the disease had suddenly caused a political storm. That was the year presidential hopeful George McGovern chose Senator Tom Eagleton for his running mate, that is, until it was discovered that Eagleton had suffered from depression.

That was the end of Eagleton’s chance at the vice presidency. But much has changed in the past quarter century. Depression is more widely understood and is finally beginning to come out of the closet. The woman who could be the next first lady, Tipper Gore, is talking openly about her encounter with the disease.

It was just last year that Gore went public about her depression and she has since become a national spokesperson on the illness. "I got a diagnosis: clinical depression," she says. "I received treatment, which included medication and therapy. And I’m happy to say that they worked and I recovered."

Gore says there’s more acceptance of depression today and she points to some of those in politics who have gone public and survived, like Congressman Patrick Kennedy and the late governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles.

But the question remains: If the president or the vice president of the United States is suffering from depression, are they capable of handling what is a very delicate, pressure-filled job? "What about a person that's had multiple heart attacks? We still entrust them with positions of authority," responds Gore. " If they know about it and they've been treated, and been treated successfully, I think that we have to make the judgment about them in the context of their career and where they are."

Last year, in working to remove the stigma associated with depression, Tipper Gore held the first ever White House Conference on Mental Health. Of course, it’s not just politicians or their wives who are afflicted.

Today, an estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression - young and old, men and women, the mighty and the obscure. And even journalists, including 60 Minutes Correspondent Mike Wallace, which is why Tipper Gore invited him to speak at the White House conference on mental health.

At that conference, Wallace spoke about his bouts of depression. "I was lower than a snake’s belly. And my own doctor, my own general practitioner didn’t pick it up. I used to call him in the middle of the night. And he said, 'Mike, you’re strong. You’ll get oer it. You’re strong.' Well, the fact of the matter is I didn’t," he explained.

Dr. Fred Goodwin has been studying depression for more than 30 years. He is the head of the National Institute of Mental Health. "That's a very typical portrait. And it’s a valuable portrait," says Dr. Goodwin, referring Wallace's description of his experiences with the disease.

Dr. Goodwin compares the knowledge of depression more than 25 years ago to what medical science knows now. "In general terms, the picture we know today was already taking shape back then. But we didn't have a lot of the - boxes filled in," says Dr. Goodwin. "We didn't have a lot of the specificity. Nor did we have what we now have, which are medications that are much more targeted. We had effective medications. But rather broad, with rather high ratios of side effects."

While there is no blood test to determine if a person is suffering from depression, there are telltale signs. Tipper Gore knows the signs well. "Over-eating or under-eating. It's over-sleeping or under-sleeping, having insomnia, early morning waking, or maybe sleeping too much, losing your ability to concentrate. Using - losing your ability to take pleasure in things that you normally take pleasure in," explains Gore, "thoughts about suicide."

In fact, it was that checklist that convinced Gore she had a problem. She knew the symptoms. She holds a master's degree in psychology and her own mother had suffered from depression. But, the clues came from an outside source. "I had - even though I knew a little bit about it, it was, you know, friends and others that came to me and said, 'Take a look at this checklist,'" says Gore.

In 1989, her son had been in a near-fatal car accident. It was after his recovery that Gore realized she needed help. And it was in her family that she found compassion. "I have to say that my husband was extremely supportive, willing to learn about how to help me...deal with this."

Left untreated, depression can be a devastating illness and can even lead to suicide. "Fortunately, I believe I got help before I got to that point," says Gore.

For Gore, help consisted of medication and talk therapy, a combination recommended for serious bouts of clinical depression.

Dr. Goodwin says that because of people like Gore, the old stigmatized notion of depression that haunted Tom Eagleton back in the 70s appears finally to be waning. "Stigma is diminishing because people who are well known and respected by the public have come out and talked about their own depression," says Dr. Goodwin.

Gore says her personal fight against depression will not desist if she becomes first lady. "This is a big priority with me. It's a lifelong commitment, no matter where I find myself in the future," says Gore.

And if she her husband loses the election in November, Gore says she will not le that affect her mental health. "I hope that my husband is elected president because I think he'd be the very best president. I support him. But the campaign is not my life. It's something that's a part of my life right now. So I will go on no matter what happens in the fall."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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