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Biden praises Fetterman for openness about depression treatment, and lawmakers share their mental health struggles

Sen. Fetterman hospitalized for depression
Sen. John Fetterman checks into hospital for clinical depression treatment 01:32

Washington —  President Joe Biden added his well wishes to a growing list of lawmakers from both parties who have expressed support for Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman after he disclosed Thursday that he is being treated for clinical depression. 

"John, Gisele — Jill and I are thinking about your family today," the President tweeted. "Millions of people struggle with depression every day, often in private. Getting the care you need is brave and important. We're grateful to you for leading by example."

The White House declined to say if Mr. Biden has spoken with Fetterman or his wife, Gisele. 

"The president has developed a very, good close relationship with the Fettermans over the last several months," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday. "You saw the president visit Pennsylvania multiple times during the midterm elections, and so they've gotten to know each other."  

Fetterman, 53, checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Wednesday night after being evaluated by Congress' attending physician Monday, according to his office. Fetterman's chief of staff, Adam Jentleson said in a statement that the senator has "experienced depression off and on throughout his life," but went on to say "it only became severe in recent weeks." 

Pennsylvania Congresswoman Susan Wild, a Democrat, lost her partner to suicide in 2019 and hopes Fetterman's disclosure can be a "teachable moment."   

"Rather than not being able to serve the people of Pennsylvania, I would contend that there are Pennsylvanians and Americans everywhere who feel less stigmatized, less of an odd-man out and recognize that they too share a disease and illness that many other people have," Wild told CBS News. "So, I would actually argue it makes him more able to relate to Pennsylvanians, to his constituents."

Rep. Susan Wild on Fetterman's hospitalization, mental health care in America 07:19

Other lawmakers have opened up about their battles with depression, including New York Rep. Richie Torres, who was hospitalized in 2010. He tweeted, "I would not be alive, let alone in Congress, were it not for mental health care." 

Democratic Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith penned an op-ed in the Daily Beast Friday about her experience with depression in her teens and again in her 30's as a young mother.

"I can't speak to John's personal experience, and I'm not comparing my own struggles with depression to what he's going through, because everyone is different," Smith wrote. "For me, depression drained hope away, and the promise that I'd ever feel hopeful again." 

Fetterman was hospitalized earlier this month after feeling lightheaded during a Senate Democratic retreat but was discharged after tests revealed no signs of stroke or seizures. He suffered a stroke last May while campaigning for U.S. Senate.  

"I know when I had my stroke, had I not gone to the hospital, I probably wouldn't be standing here today," another Democrat, New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Lujan told CBS News. "We should encourage people to speak up and say something if they're not feeling well." 

 Lujan had a stroke in January 2022 and underwent brain surgery. He described Fetterman as "great" and "strong" since his arrival on Capitol Hill.  

"He's quickly adjusted to this quirky place," Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, told CBS News. "It takes a while to kind of figure this place out. It's very different. He was a lieutenant governor, and I was, too, and we were both mayors. It's a very different kind of job, but he relishes it."

Some senators say they remain concerned about Fetterman's health after his latest diagnosis. 

"That would be a challenge for anybody when you add that to the work we do up here," Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, told CBS News.  "I believe that he may have some challenges with auditory response but he is able to participate using voice to text. He has been participating in the classified briefings that I've been in. He's been at all of them. So he's literally been playing with pain, but he's been here and he's shown up." 

"He's been through a lot physically and mentally," said Senate GOP Whip John Thune, of South Dakota. "Our prayers are with him and his family and hope that he can get on the road to recovery and get back up here."

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