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A More Upbeat Mood About Depression: Stigma and Mental Health Take Center Stage

Expert Patients John McManamy and Deborah Gray share their insights on breaking news about depression

Mental health issues entered the spotlight this week, as two prominent community figures’ private battles with depression became public knowledge. In Montgomery County, Executive Doug Duncan announced that he was dropping out of the governor’s race to cope with clinical depression. The Washington Post optimistically titled the article announcing his withdrawal “In Politics, a More Upbeat Mood About Depression.” The same week witnessed the tragic death of publisher and public servant Phil Merrill, who committed suicide after allegedly suffering a period of severe depression. The Washington Post reports, “Top Brass Recall Merrill’s Frankness, ‘Can-Do’ Spirit.”

So what does this really mean for us? Here's what our expert patients John McManamy and Deborah Gray have to say.

John McManamy reflects . . .

Our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, unfortunately would not even be able to run for dogcatcher today on account of his depression. Not with all the media scrutiny these days. Lincoln’s melancholy (as they called depression back then) was well known to the voters, yet living successfully with his affliction was seen as a character virtue and a political asset rather than a weakness and a political liability. In some ways, their age was more enlightened than ours.

A recent Duke University study of our first 37 presidents found that one in four lived with a mood disorder. This includes John Adams (bipolar), James Madison (depression), John Quincy Adams (depression), Franklin Pierce (depression), Abraham Lincoln (depression), Rutherford B Hayes (depression), Theodore Roosevelt (bipolar), Woodrow Wilson (depression), Calvin Coolidge (depression), Herbert Hoover (depression), Dwight Eisenhower (depression), Lyndon Johnson (bipolar).

Both depression and bipolar can confer obvious advantages in the right people. With depression the rose-colored glasses come off and one can think realistically and not get talked into making bad decisions. Bipolar works well in the productivity, visionary, and charisma departments. Bill Clinton, I contend, was a “unipolar hypomanic,” not a full-blown bipolar but able to use the benefits of hypomania to his full advantage (but also, unfortunately, exercising extremely bad personal judgment).

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