John Fetterman Opens Up About His Battle With Depression in ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ Interview

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., arrives for President Joe Biden's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Patrick Berkery

April 2, 2023

In his first interview since leaving the hospital, Sen. John Fetterman described what he called a downward spiral following the November election, saying he had stopped engaging with the “things that I love in my life.”

HARRISBURG — In an interview on “CBS Sunday Morning,” US Sen. John Fetterman opened about the battle with depression that prompted him to seek inpatient treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after weeks of what aides described as Fetterman being withdrawn and uninterested in eating, discussing work, or the usual banter with staff.

He said he “had stopped leaving my bed, I’d stopped eating, I was dropping weight, I’d stopped engaging in some of the most — things that I love in my life.”

Fetterman said the symptoms gathered strength after he won the November election.

“The whole thing about depression,” he said, “is that objectively you may have won, but depression can absolutely convince you that you actually lost and that’s exactly what happened and that was the start of a downward spiral.”

You can watch the interview here.

Fetterman left Walter Reed Friday after six weeks of inpatient treatment for clinical depression, with plans to return to the Senate when the chamber resumes session in mid-April, his office said.

In a statement, Fetterman’s office said he is back home in Braddock, in western Pennsylvania, with his depression “in remission,” and gave details on his treatment — including that his depression was treated with medication and that he is wearing hearing aids for hearing loss.

It was the latest medical episode for the Democrat, who won last fall’s most expensive Senate contest after suffering a stroke that he has said nearly killed him and from which he continues to recover.

Fetterman, who has a wife and three school-age children, said he is happy to be home.

“I’m excited to be the father and husband I want to be, and the senator Pennsylvania deserves. Pennsylvanians have always had my back, and I will always have theirs,” Fetterman said. “I am extremely grateful to the incredible team at Walter Reed. The care they provided changed my life.”

Fetterman, 53, will return to the Senate the week of April 17.

Doctors describe “remission” as when a patient responds to treatment so that they have returned to normal social function and they are indistinguishable from someone who has never had depression.

At the time he entered the hospital, Fetterman was barely a month into his service in Washington and still recovering from the aftereffects of the stroke he suffered last May. He went to Walter Reed on the advice of the Capitol physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan.

Post-stroke depression is common and treatable through medication and talk therapy, doctors say.

Fetterman’s return will be welcome news for Democrats who have struggled to find votes for some nominations, in particular, without him in the Senate.

Fetterman’s office also released details of his treatment under medical professionals led by Dr. David Williamson, a neuropsychiatrist.

When he was admitted, Fetterman had “severe symptoms of depression with low energy and motivation, minimal speech, poor sleep, slowed thinking, slowed movement, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, but no suicidal ideation,” the statement attributed to Williamson said.

The symptoms had steadily worsened over the preceding eight weeks and Fetterman had stopped eating and drinking fluids. That caused low blood pressure, the statement said.

“His depression, now resolved, may have been a barrier to engagement,” it said.

Fetterman had the stroke last May as he was campaigning in a three-way Democratic primary race. He had surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy.

One of Fetterman’s main aftereffects from the stroke is auditory processing disorder, which can render someone unable to speak fluidly and quickly process spoken conversation into meaning. Fetterman uses devices in conversations, meetings and congressional hearings that transcribe spoken words in real time.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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