Stop the Stigma: Mental Health Challenges Are No Barrier to Success

By Timothy Head, Guest Commentary – October 24, 2022
(Views expressed by guest commentators may not reflect the views of OAN or its affiliates.)


The midterms are less than a month away, and Georgia’s incumbent U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and his party appear hell-bent on discrediting his opponent Herschel Walker, firing off one unjust attack after another. 

But as a football hero, successful business leader, and outspoken conservative with President Trump’s endorsement, Georgia Democrats are right to feel threatened by Walker. And despite their most recent efforts to defame him, the poll numbers aren’t shifting.

October surprises like these are nothing new, and they’re not deterring voters. But they do reveal just how low the Left is willing to go to distract Americans from their failing policies. They’ve gone after Walker’s family, his character, and even his battle with dissociative identity disorder.

In the face of these attacks, Walker responded boldly by acknowledging his mental health struggles and recognizing that by God’s grace, he was able to overcome them.

Walker’s response at such a pivotal moment in his career reminds Americans of an important truth — mental health challenges shouldn’t disqualify anyone from pursuing a career or running for office. Mental health isn’t and shouldn’t be a political issue; it’s an inseparable part of who we are, and people who overcome mental health challenges to excel in any walk of life should be applauded, not ostracized.

When Walker first wrote about his diagnosis in his book Breaking Free, he was, in many respects, ahead of his time. He was open and honest about a difficult issue that was only just beginning to gain mainstream attention. His book Breaking Free was published in 2008 — the same year that insurance companies were first required to cover mental health services.

Many years have passed since Walker wrote Breaking Free. And we now understand that mental health challenges are not only very common; they are also natural, human and manageable.

Mental health disorders are among the most common health challenges in developed countries like the United States, and the National Institutes of Health notes that around 21% of Americans ages 18 and older — or roughly 1 in 5 adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Additionally, around 16% of Americans ages 6 to 17 — roughly 1 in 6 children — also suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.

But mental health challenges are not just common; they have also historically never been a hard limit on what people can accomplish, whether politically or professionally. In fact, there are numerous examples of historical figures who struggled with mental health challenges yet also led successful lives and political careers.

Abraham Lincoln, for instance, famously fought what we now know as clinical depression. At the time, those around him dismissed him as simply being “melancholy,” yet he went on to become one of our most revered presidents. A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. serves as another prominent example. He reportedly attempted suicide twice during his childhood and experienced severe depressive episodes well into adulthood. After his rise to prominence as a human rights leader, those closest to him urged him to seek psychiatric treatment.

Even current and former members of Congress have faced mental health challenges. Rep. Ruben Gallego, representing Arizona’s 7th district, revealed shortly after his election in 2014 that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And Garnet Coleman suffers from bipolar disorder, and he served in the Texas House of Representatives for over 20 years.

In light of all of these examples of great success by those with mental illness, it’s time we end the stigma around mental health and repudiate the notion that these challenges hinder people from attaining professional success. To write someone off because of a mental health struggle is to deny their humanity, and that is something we must not accept.

Ending this stigma certainly will require a societal change in attitude, but it will require political change as well. We can and must support policy-based initiatives to realize this change. We can work to make mental health challenges, and their treatments, a normal part of our society.

Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.