Tipper Gore Details Depression Treatment
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 1999; Page
Tipper Gore, wife of the vice president, disclosed in a published report yesterday that she was once treated for depression but now believes she has fully recovered.
Some time after her young son recovered from a near-fatal accident, Gore said she sought and received medical help for depression. She underwent counseling and took medication for what she described as situational depression.
"I know how important good mental health care can be because I personally benefited from it," Tipper Gore wrote in an article on the Op Ed page of USA Today.
As her husband's presidential campaign builds, Tipper Gore has taken a higher public profile, stepping up her travel schedule and appearing on television. Next month she hosts a White House conference on mental health.
Asserting that in any given year 51 million Americans suffer from a mental disorder, she said she came forward to destigmatize mental illness: "If it helps one person, then I think it would have been worthwhile."
In an accompanying interview, Gore said she did not realize she needed medical help until after her son had completely recovered from a car accident in 1989.
"It was definitely a clinical depression and one that I was going to have to have help to overcome," she said. "When you get to this point . . . you just can't will your way out of that or pray your way out of that or pull yourself up by the bootstraps out of that. You really have to go and get help, and I did. And I was treated for it successfully, I'm happy to report."
Gore would not say how long her illness lasted, what her symptoms were or what medication was prescribed. Neither she nor the vice president was available yesterday, though he issued a statement praising his wife for showing "grace and intelligence . . . honesty and courage."
Several observers, while commending Gore for discussing such a private matter, nevertheless saw some political calculation. By coming forward before any news reports on the subject, she was able to control how and where the information was first presented to the public.
"She's speaking to Americans rather than elites and doing it in a publication that doesn't have the same level of testosterone in its reputation for political coverage," said Tom Rosenstiel, who heads the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
He said Gore's preemptive strike is known in political circles as "inoculatory--getting a small dose of media exposure will inoculate you later on."
"It is hard to believe she is not conscious of the political advantage of disposing of this issue up front now, early in the campaign," said Marvin Kalb, head of the Joan Shorenstein media center at Harvard University.
Robert Squier, a political consultant and friend who spoke to Tipper Gore before the interview, called such comments "a cynical view of a serious illness. She has tried to lay this out in a context that is understandable to others; she ought to be applauded for it."
In the interview, Gore acknowledged the presidential campaign will trigger "additional scrutiny," but said, "this is such a personal illness, and it's such a personal decision to speak out now."
For years, the Gores have spoken about the trauma they suffered after son Albert III was hit by a car at age 6. As the boy darted into the street, "I watched in horror as he flew through the air, scraped along the pavement and then lay still," Tipper Gore wrote in her book "Picture This, A Visual Diary."
Tipper Gore also has spoken about her mother's severe depression, an illness for which Margaret Ann Aitcheson was institutionalized at least twice. Her parents were divorced when she was 2, and Tipper Gore was raised largely by her grandmother.
"Tipper's grandmother was a mainstay in her life," said family friend Steve Armistead. "She had a lot of influence on who Tipper is today."
Because of her mother's history, Tipper Gore said she has wondered about and watched for signs in herself and her four children of mental illness.
"You need to pay attention to early warning signs that you or your children might have it. We've discussed that as a family, of course," she said. "But I was told that since I was somewhere in my forties when this first occurred to me, and they said it's situational, that if it were the other it would have happened much, much younger."
Despite years of advocacy as the president's top mental health adviser, this was the first time she chose to discuss her difficulties.
Staff writer Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
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