Former U. S. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D.MO) died last Sunday, at the age of 77. Some older readers will recall that it was Tom Eagleton who was placed on the Democratic ticket as a vice presidential running mate to Senator George McGovern at the nominating convention in 1972. Only two weeks after the national party convention nominated Eagleton he was removed from that ticket because of an earlier psychiatric hospitalization for depression that was revealed through the press.

Eagleton was tapped, according the McGovern’s campaign director, the future Colorado senator Gary Hart, because he was “Catholic, urban and an unknown from a border state.” The McGovern campaign knew of Eagleton’s previous hospitalization(s) but felt that they could present Eagleton as a man of vitality and hard work who had been hospitalized because of his aggresive campaigning style that drained him.

What finally brought Eagleton down was intense media questioning brought about through, as is almost always the case, anonymous tips. Eagleton admitted he was “voluntarily hospitalized for nervous exhaustion and depression three times in the previous twelve years.” These depressions generally followed a campaign season and his treatments included counseling, medical treatment and electrical shock therapy, common procedures in those days. Senator McGovern initially stood by Eagleton but as influential newspapers questioned his suitability for the job Thomas Eagleton withdrew from the national ticket. (McGovern, clearly the most politically liberal major national candidate of the 20th century, went on to loose the election in a massive landslide to Richard Nixon.)

Tom Eagleton was re-elected to the U. S. Senate from Missouri in 1974 by a wide margin, showing Missourians trusted him. He was re-elected again six years later. When he finally left politics he practiced law in St. Louis and later helped bring the L. A. Rams football team to the city.

I had to wonder this week how the public would respond today to a national candidate who had been hospitalized for depression? We have made advances in accepting depression as an illness that is treatable and not that uncommon. Dick Cheney remained on the Republican ticket in 2004 even though we knew he had endured a series of pretty major heart issues for some years. But depression is still not understood in the wider society and is often treated in ways that are both unhelpful and lacking in solid medical understanding. Christians can be at their worst when it comes to this issue, often blaming depression on a lack of real faith and trust in God. I would like to think things have improved a great deal since 1972 but I frankly doubt it. Most of my friends who are pastors, and who have admitted their need for counseling and treatment for depression, have not been able to endure for long in conservative churches. The deep-seated misunderstanding and mistrust continues, especially in perfectionist settings. Eagleton’s obituary reminded me of this sad, sad fact. It also made me hope for better times in the future since I believe some progress has been made. For all who have suffered with depression, silently or otherwise, one can only hope that this will soon become the case since public rejection makes it all the harder to deal with this problem, especially when it comes from Christian brothers and sisters who should know both their Bibles, and the pains often associated with living well in a fallen world, much better. 

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  1. a former something March 8, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Despite the recent hullabaloo about a certain church here, when depression ravages you or someone close to you, you realize what’s really important. I wonder how many Christians know that Charles Spurgeon suffered from depression for many years.
    The following by Charles Haddon Spurgeon is from the Metropolitan
    Tabernacle Pulpit, 1881, vol. 27, p. 1595:
    I know that wise brethren say, ‘You should not give way to feelings of
    depression.’ … If those who blame quite so furiously could once know
    what depression is, they would think it cruel to scatter blame where
    comfort is needed. There are experiences of the children of God which
    are full of spiritual darkness; and I am almost persuaded that those
    of God’s servants who have been most highly favoured have,
    nevertheless, suffered more times of darkness than others.
    The covenant is never known to Abraham so well as when a horror of
    great darkness comes over him, and then he sees the shining lamp
    moving between the pieces of the sacrifice. A greater than Abraham was
    early led of the Spirit into the wilderness, and yet again ere He
    closed His life He was sorrowful and very heavy in the garden.
    No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ
    our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.’
    There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression.
    I would, therefore, try to cheer any brother who is sad, for his
    sadness is not necessarily blameworthy. If his downcast spirit arises
    from unbelief, let him flog himself, and cry to God to be delivered
    from it; but if the soul is sighing–‘though he slay me, yet will I
    trust in him’–its being slain is not a fault.
    The way of sorrow is not the way of sin, but a hallowed road
    sanctified by the prayers of myriads of pilgrims now with
    God–pilgrims who, passing through the valley of Baca [lit: of
    weeping], made it a well, the rain also filled the pools: of such it
    is written: ‘They go from strength to strength, every one of them in
    Zion appeareth before God.’

  2. Steve Scott March 9, 2007 at 1:42 am

    We readily accept physical illness of all sorts, but it seems mental illnesses are today’s version leprosy. Hopefully someday we’ll view the most severely affected as worth fighting for. Personally, I’m sick of the Christian cliche’ of correction that requires us to be perfectly joyful.

  3. Steven Harold - Hypnosis Mp3s September 10, 2007 at 4:57 am

    Most people agree that Abe Lincoln made a pretty good president and yet he suffered bouts of depression too.

  4. Paul Rieker September 26, 2007 at 10:27 am

    When we say “Depression is not understood” perhaps we need to go back and look at the breakthroughs in medicine, science to understand how breakthroughs are made.
    It wasn’t until the 1908 that the Bubonic Plague in Europe was understood. Navajo Indians in the Southwest knew it was rat fleas from centuries of wisdom handed down.
    In the late 1800s engineers of the time could not, but two bicycle mechanics built and flew the 1st airplane. Multiple inventions were required. The Wright Brothers had to re-calculate the previous lift mathematics and out of this created our transportation and commerce today.
    Bicycle Mechanics!
    Both the Navajo and the Wright Brothers acted upon their own observations.
    After my Mother’s suicide, I learned the cause of Depression. But, I have no recognized credential either in medicine or in psychology.
    I am relating this from my own observations.
    None the less, the cause of depression is due to:
    Multiple Compounded Emotional Fixations
    These are created by an “initial sensitizing event” where the kernel of learning is established to bring an Anchor which we sort future experiences or conversations of anger and fear. We sort emotions to this anchor.
    The Anger and Fear become associated with the Anchor because this is part of human learning. Our learning is NOT without emotions.
    When the anger or fear becomes so thick (what I call wrapper), precludes us from intellectually knowing the cause of the ‘fixation’. The hiding of the intellectual cause is the mechanism which creates the ‘repressed memory’.
    I have inquired of many psychologist, “what creates the repressed memory?” I have found most people don’t know or fully understand this mechanism.
    If this was more widely understood we could have less depression and grief in our world.
    The anchor which collects current experiences of Anger and Fear can be broken.
    This process begins with a ‘Negotiation, Agreement and Expectation’. (This is a concept which is beyond this comment)
    The breaking of Multiple Compounded Emotional Fixations is achieved through:
    Emotional Reframing
    This is a set of skills outside of what is taught in Psychology License Requirements.
    The abreaction is the breaking of the wrapper so the emotions no longer preclude you from knowing the intellectual cause of the fixation. The Desensitization is to cause you to no longer ‘expect’ to have that bad feeling. The Emotional Reframing is to BELIEVE the BEST over the continual past behavior believing the worst.
    I have seen this applied to GRIEF where the underpinnings of grief are broken in a short time.
    TEN emotional reframes can be accomplished in an hour. This means 2 hours TWENTY emotional fixations and points of anger and fear can be re-structured so the focus of attention can become joy.
    This is a specific contradiction to the STAGES of Grief which Kubler Ross watched and noted. Kubler Ross’ work had NO intervention and essentially was a ‘report’ of stages rather than a healing intervention. It’s unfortunate that people find the STAGES of grief to be the defacto and NO expected intervention can occur. Isn’t that sad, the expectation is created that one must STAGE themselves rather than break out of grief!
    The EXPECTATION created by Kubler Ross documents and books set the expectation there is to be NO brievity to Grief. It’s too bad people have read that work in that way, and set their EXPECTATION to not include JOY in a short time.
    We were born in JOY and OPTIMISM. We had no teeth, we didn’t know our name and we had no skills to feed ourselves, we were born mainly with optimism. It’s too bad the stream of life events create such anger and fear which preclude us from action.
    That is depression: Overwhelming anger and fear which causes one to do nothing, to love no-one and to no longer be optimistic.
    After my Mother’s Suicide a gentleman applied the above to change my depression in less than 30 days.
    The Wright Brothers learned to create an airplane from their observation and inventions around their observation.
    This is the same for me. I have observed everything in this comment and I can show how it works and present the positive actions so joy and action can again live.
    Is this a good story? Do you want to learn more?
    This process of Believing the Best while breaking the wrappers of anger and fear cannot be patented or bottled by a board of directors and a group of shareholders. Otherwise it could be a great product.
    But, it’s up to you.
    Would you like to see Depression, PTSD and Grief addressed in a shorter time?
    Paul Rieker

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