U.S. Senator Fetterman Checks Into Hospital for Depression Treatment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democratic U.S. Senator John Fetterman, who flipped a Republican-held seat in last November’s elections just six months after suffering a near-fatal stroke, checked into a Washington-area hospital on Wednesday for treatment for clinical depression, his office said in a statement.

The 53-year-old Pennsylvania senator was evaluated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Monday by the attending physician for Congress, who recommended inpatient care, Fetterman’s office said on Thursday.

Fetterman was briefly hospitalized last week after feeling light-headed, though doctors determined he had not suffered a new stroke.

“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” Fetterman’s Chief of Staff Adam Jentleson said in the statement on Thursday.

“After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself,” Jentleson said. The statement did not say how long Fetterman was expected to be in the hospital, and Fetterman’s office did not respond to requests for additional details.

In his previous hospitalization, the senator was discharged from George Washington University Hospital in Washington last Friday after two days there.

Fetterman’s Democrats and the three independents who caucus with them hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, which is due to be in recess next week.

Known for his large tattooed frame, goatee and penchant for hoodies and shorts, Fetterman gained a national profile for his progressive positions. The former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor beat Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz by a large margin in November’s midterm elections to replace former Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who retired.

“After what he’s been through in the past year, there’s probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John. I’m so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs,” the senator’s wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, said on Twitter.

Fetterman suffered a stroke last May, later acknowledging that he had “almost died,” and has faced challenges adjusting to life in the Senate during his recovery.

Since the stroke, he has suffered lingering problems with his ability to speak and to process the speech he hears. As a result, he uses monitors that provide audio-to-text transcription, according to a New York Times report this month.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was happy to hear his fellow Democrat was “getting the help he needs and deserves,” adding that he was “looking forward to seeing him return to the Senate soon.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019 roughly 5% of adults had regular feelings of depression – and studies have found the prevalence of depression rose significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depression is a well-known problem for stroke survivors, at least in part because the resulting brain damage can disrupt the body’s production of stress hormones. Research suggests that one in three stroke survivors will eventually develop post-stroke depression. Currently, the primary treatment is a class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. 

Democratic Senator Tina Smith, who discussed her own past struggles with mental health in a 2019 Senate speech, on Thursday said Fetterman was doing the right thing by seeking treatment.

“John is doing exactly what he should do, which is seek help,” Smith said on Twitter. “Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness, something that John is demonstrating for all of us.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Moira Warburton, Rami Ayyub, Nancy Lapid and Kanishka Singh; writing by David Morgan; editing by Eric Beech, Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)