John Fetterman

Destigmatizing disability

2 minute read

When Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman attended his swearing-in ceremony last year, few knew of the invisible adversaries he battled daily. While the public witnessed the pomp of his inauguration, behind the scenes, Fetterman grappled with the weight of depression and the lingering effects of a stroke. It was a private struggle that threatened to overshadow his political journey, yet Fetterman chose to confront it head-on, defying the stigma surrounding mental health and disability in the political arena.

Following a major stroke during his 2022 campaign, Fetterman’s auditory-processing abilities became impaired, presenting significant challenges in his daily life. Instead of letting those obstacles define him, he embraced technology as a means of adaptation. Holding up his iPhone to showcase a transcription app at a Senate Aging Committee hearing in September, Fetterman emotionally described how transcription services enabled him to navigate his responsibilities as a Senator, and said the ridicule he faced gave him a taste of what people with lifelong challenges endure.
In a world where vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, Fetterman’s willingness to share his story and check himself into a hospital to receive treatment for depression without resigning his role has served as a beacon of courage and resilience. His message resonated far beyond the confines of Pennsylvania, sparking conversations about the importance of destigmatizing mental-health issues and promoting self-care among public figures. “I have a duty to pay it forward,” Fetterman told TIME last year. “Because I’ll be honest with you, I would be scared where I would be right now if I didn’t have the kind of help that I got … And it’s a shame that those types of resources are not available to everyone. But what is available is that I have a duty to be a champion of that.”

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