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Is the Star Tribune crazy to ask governor candidates about their mental health?

Late Thursday, Politics in Minnesota’s Sarah Janecek reported that the Star Tribune is surveying gubernatorial candidates about their mental health. Here’s the email, ascribed to reporter Pat Doyle, that Janecek republished:

Dear candidate for governor:

Following up on the recent published remarks by former Sen. Mark Dayton about his treatment for depression and alcohol abuse, the Star Tribune is asking each candidate for governor whether he or she has ever received therapy or treatment of any kind for use of alcohol or prescription or non-prescription drugs, or for depression or anxiety.

The response — or the absence of a response — will likely be used in a future news story. The newspaper requests that any response to this inquiry be made by Jan. 8.

Thank you.

Condemnation, at least journalistically, was swift. City Pages’ Kevin Hoffman pronounced it a “modern-day Inquisition.” On Twitter, MPR’s Bob Collins declared, “You know who’ll get my vote? The first candidate to stand up and say publicly, 'Screw you, Strib. It’s not of your business.'”

I checked with the Strib to see if the email was authentic; political editor Pat Lopez replied, “I appreciate your attempt to confirm, but I'm afraid I cannot discuss stories the Star Tribune may or may not be pursuing.”

So is the Strib nuts to pry like this? I’m afraid my feelings are more ambivalent than others’.

A big part of the reason is that I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder, and not the benign fatigue-is-the-only-symptom kind that Dayton described to the Strib’s Lori Sturdevant.

Although I have a wonderful, supportive family and am a reasonably productive member of society, depression is the struggle of my life, from the insomnia and obsessiveness that has me up at 4 a.m. chewing over this topic, to bouts of withdrawing from my family and the physical world. Trust me, if I were running for governor, I’d regard my depression and the resulting stress-triggered struggles as something the public should know.

By placing mental health questions off-limits, we’re leaving it up to the candidates to self-report (or be forced by rivals to self-report). If Paul Wellstone and Jim Ramstad are right about insurance parity for physical and mental illness, why should mental health questions be off limits if we wouldn’t bat an eye when candidates are asked for their traditional health histories?

Stigma, comes the instant reply. Voters would instantly disqualify someone who owned up to, say, being bipolar — even if most members of the public have no real idea of what being bipolar means. Another version: We'd never have elected Lincoln.

But this “You can’t handle the truth” limitation on questioning is dangerous for journalists to succumb to. Our job is to figure out what’s important, ask about it, provide necessary context, and let the chips fall where they may.

(Collins’ tweeted rejoinder? “I don't trust a horse-race-happy group of reporters to be educated enough about mental illness 2 provide context or enlightenment.”)

The fundamental question, of course, is whether mental health and substance abuse history is important. Should we know if a female hopeful suffered from post-partum depression? If a candidate received counseling for the loss of a family member? If someone successfully handled a drug problem three decades ago?

Although Minnesota's governor doesn't have nukes, journalists now regularly ask about mental health history as a regular part of presidential elections. In the wake of questions about his temperament and time as a POW, John McCain refused to release his mental health records. Barack Obama didn't either, though his physician issued a one-page letter stating, the candidate was "'in overall good physical and mental health needed to maintain the resiliency' required of presidents." That's probably a model if you're in the self-reporting-only camp.

To be fair: We don’t know how the Strib would edit the information they’re (probably) pursuing, assuming any candidate actually gives it to them. And they may be trying to level the stigma field amid horribly over-broad and under-substantiated allegations that some Dayton rival shopped the initial allegations — resulting in a lousy Dec. 29 Strib story, by the way.

This latest inquiry is also a botch. Why the strange limitation to depression and anxiety? Why not, say, paranoid schizophrenia? And why only conditions for which candidates have “ever received therapy or treatment?” The message there is, “Stay untreated, and you’re good to go, governor.”

One of the best arguments against what the Strib is doing is that mental health prying is a poor proxy for what really matters: the candidates’ actual actions. After all, unlike me, all have long records of public service. There are dozens if not hundreds of people who have worked with, or for, each of the hopefuls. A diligent reporter should probe their actual behavior, not some condition that may — or may not — explain how they operate.

I can’t say we’ve been oversupplied with such profiles, or issue-focused pieces, with the field-whittling precinct caucuses just 25 days away. It’s certainly easier to send out a survey.

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Comments (46)

I'm surprised to see other reporters so vocal about the inappropriateness of asking certain types of questions.

I think when you're running for Governor: there's virtually no question off-limits. What gets published -- now that's a different issue.

Part of reporting is messy, dirty, unattractive to the general public. We feel out freedom of information requests asking for all sorts of stuff that we don't plan on reporting on. But that's part of what reporting is.

Is drug use relevant to some voters' views on a candidate for Governor? Absolutely. You make a case that mental health issues is also relevant.

I guess the lesson here is: ask these questions over the phone, not over e-mail.

Agreed, Jason. Collins is speaking as a blogger whose business interest is in opposing the Strib at any point. The issue is real and in play because of Mark's disclosure.

Kevin - I think the shot at Bob's employer is unfair. He's a person of integrity, and I believe would hold these opinions regardless of whether MPR and the Strib were carping at each other.

Let's stay focused on the issue, not the ad hominem.

I think that people's sharply differing views on the Strib's question depend on if they or a close relative have suffered from mental illness or alcholism. When it is personal to you, well, people take it personally.

This applies to journalists as well as anyone else.

Personally, I think the Strib question is not really relevant. Minnesotans have elected Governors since 1856 without newspapers publishing their mental health or drinking status. The paper should focus on public policy issue or differing leadership styles.

This crosses a line, and if I were running, I would ignore the request.

If the goal is to learn as much about a candidate as we can, then we should be looking at more than what the candidates have had diagnosed.

Given that mental illness can be genetic, we should also be asking about children. in other words, children and families are no longer off limits.

Has your child been diagnosed with a mental illness, then, becomes legitimate, then.

Of course, that's silly. But let's suppose a candidate answers "yes" to the question the Strib is posing. What has to happen next? A full explainer of the situation. Everything.

People are surprised "other reporters" are voicing concerns? Well, swell. Personally, I long for the day when more reporters aren't surprised that "other reporters" are asking ethical questions.

By the way, Kevin, if MPR comes out today and says IT is asking the questions the Strib is asking, you can rest assured that the first person you read criticizing that would be me.

Even if it costs me my job. Ethics are personal to me.

As someone who feels most of the public can't adequately understand the most primary of issues, it gives me pause to think we are going to let people make their own judgement about phenomena which aren't even deeply understood by clinicians. I have various family members with mental health issues and my and our understanding of those phenomena evolve with each decade.

That said, I do wonder what drives someone such as Dayton, and obvious introvert who seems fundamentally unsuited for politics and inspires no passion, to want to continually run for office.

And what is the dividing line between the large ego and sense of grandiosity most pols have to have and where it becomes a diagnosis? Very complicated stuff. Not sure I have met many newspaper reporters I'd feel were qualified to parse that stuff as to its significance.

So if we think the public can't understand something because it's complicated - we don't ask about it? Come on now.

Again: I'm not saying that a story about whether or not the candidates have been treated for mental illness matters to me. It doesn't, frankly. I don't care.

But I'm not bothered by the question. And Bob.. it surprises me, because if we're going to analyze the questions this one reporter asked in one e-mail... are we prepared to analyze every question every one of us ever asks? Every FOI request - hold that up and say - well gosh, this isn't appropriate, and I don't know if I'm qualified to parse the significance of this story.

I just feel like people are convicting the Strib for thinking about running a story that some think is irrelevant.

No, Jason, the criticism is the separation of mental health from every other facet of a candidate's personal life.

It also lumps mental illness in with illegal substance abuse.

Why? Because that's what Mark Dayton acknowledged.

Mark Dayton's acknowledgement doesn't really give you any more information about Mark Dayton's qualifications to be governor. His actions -- especially the closing of his office during the terrorism scare -- did that.

The question, then, is where do you stop? Where's the line?

I notice that on my survey of potential questions, "have you ever had homosexual thoughts?" is the one question people think shouldn't be asked. But there's probably people out there who might say that's something they want to know about a candidate because -- in their view -- that's relevant to how they judge people.

Who gets to decide that?

Jason, you and I both know that hours have been spent in J-school analyzing the question "Do you still beat your wife?"

There's a reason we did that.

I'm of the opinion that the question isn't necessarily offensive, but there's really no point to ask it.

Do we ask people what their eyesight is because we feel that they could not govern effectively if they could not see well enough to read? No, that would be stupid, because they have glasses. Such as it is with mental illness - if it's being properly treated and does not interfere with someone's performance, then it is immaterial.

The Strib is just pandering to the mouthbreathing masses who perpetuate stigmas about mental health. Can you blame a for-profit newspaper for drumming up stories which profit from irrelevant personal struggles, when that's what the public wants?

I'm in the same boat as Jason. I have a hard time sorting the differences between physical and mental health as they apply to serving in public office, both can be a factor in how a candidate can perform their duties and I think there's an arguement that mental health can affect the ability to perform duties more than something like a heart defect.

On the other hand, my wife thinks both mental and physical health questions are unethical to ask and should be ignored by a candidate.

I understand the stigmas in play, but the politician that fights wrongful stigmas will get my vote. Probably more than once.

Shouldn't the criterion be relevance? A disease that is being treated and doesn't affect performance or judgment isn't any more relevant if it is mental than if it is physical. In Mark's case, the story was relevant -- people were raising questions about his judgment while in the US Senate. He dealt with it forthrightly. Now it's up to Minnesotans to put his disclosure in context. But does that mean that every candidate should disclose? Journalists need to be more discriminating. A broad-brush, follow-the pack approach doesn't help the public's understanding of the people seeking to be governor. Instead, voters need insight on how each person makes his or her judgments; what are the influences past and present, mental, physical, cultural or other; etc. Wouldn't it be most helpful to know BEFORE election day that Carlson often was angry, Ventura was petulant, Pawlenty stubborn -- and each of these traits sometimes played out to a fault?

David writes: "...I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder, and not the benign fatigue-is-the-only-symptom kind that Dayton described to the Strib’s Lori Sturdevant.

Although I have a wonderful, supportive family and am a reasonably productive member of society, depression is THE struggle of my life, from the insomnia and obsessiveness that has me up at 4 a.m. chewing over this topic, to bouts of withdrawing from my family and the physical world. Trust me, if I were running for governor, I’d regard my depression and the resulting stress-triggered struggles as something the public should know."

I have the same struggle and symptoms. But I differ on the conclusion. If I were a candidate, I would not reveal it. I think it is not the public's business. A candidate's's actions and positions are what he should be judged on, not his diseases. And, as William Styron so eloquently wrote, anyone who has not suffered from mental illness is not able to adequately understand it.

As a former journalist, I believe the question should not be asked. It is irrelevant, as Matt wrote. And it is tabloid style, which, unfortunately, most main stream newspapers have stooped to these days.

It's dangerous to jump into a discussion like this with a gut reaction, but I've never run from danger, so here goes.

I don't see this as a huge ethical deal. Politicians are human beings with faults and frailties. It would help society in the long run to realize this, and not to demand some superhuman strength as a precondition of public service.

Openly discussing such issues ultimately will help remove the stigma. We demand that our politicians pretend to be perfect. I think that discussing issues like mental health and substance abuse would help inject a little dose of humility. Instead of maintaining the facade of perfection, candidates would be forced to own up to their struggles.

I'm not going to do down in flames defending this position, but I do have a hard time getting exercised over what the Strib is planning. If the candidates say "screw you," fine. It will probably be a popular stance. But if some of them do take the opportunity to discuss the struggles they've been through, I'd probably view it as a sign of wisdom and maturity. I may be in a small minority on that.

Dave, I also have had to deal with a diagnosis of chronic major depression, seek treatment, and struggle to balance my health with my work life. I have been successful in working and performing well, although it has been a struggle. But at the end of the day, it is my job performance that matters, not what happens at 4AM. What is more, my personal health issues are of absolutely no business to my employer, co-workers or the public as long as I am successfully carrying out my job. And, what is more, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, I (and you) are entitled to reasonable accomodations.
If a reporter were to ask me about my health issues it should be my choice to disclose or not, without prejudice. but we know that prejudice is alive and well when it comes to depression and other brain chemistry disorders. Just read the comments in the original Strib post on Dayton for a sample.

Sure, reporters can ask any questions they want. But I am entitled to despise the paper, the reporter and the question because it is NOT an attempt to inform the public but rather to cater to sensationalizing the race in the absence of ongoing coverage of the real issues of governance.

I agree with Tom Horner's take that the criterion should be relevance. Much like a lawyer needs to establish foundation before asking a question in court, so should a journalist when making a high-profile request such as the Strib's.

If there isn't a solid basis for asking, the question becomes the story regardless of the answer given.

This is a slippery slope. If we were to learn that one of the candidates had been unfaithful to their spouse, would it be appropriate for the media to ask all of them about their past infidelities?

Despite my earlier comment, I do find myself agreeing with this from Joanna:

" is NOT an attempt to inform the public but rather to cater to sensationalizing the race in the absence of ongoing coverage of the real issues of governance."

Hey David I am very impressed, having now learned about your mental sitch, given that you have been so productive for so long, and that's coming from one head case to another. But I am pretty sure it is a phenotype for scribblers, probably secretly afflicting every third person commenting here today. I will offer you three letters: CBT. Cleaned up my work related anxiety in six weeks. That or the name Albert Ellis. I am now bored by anxiety, if you can imagine that. But back to this subject. I am with Bob. They should all tell the Strib to go to hell.

I wonder what these editors and reporters would say in a job interview if it were they who were asked to talk about their mental health history.

They might cite HIPAA, or complain of discriminatory hiring practices.

Or course, candidates for public office are held to much more scrutiny than someone seeking work in the private sector.

Still, I am of the opinion that simply asking the question — with the supposed intention to share the answers with the public — scrutinizes demons rather than qualifications and records. This could set a scary precedent.

If someone wants to share their story, fine. Otherwise, if a certain mental condition might affect someone's capability to serve, journalists should be able to figure that out by digging — and not into mental diagnoses.
First came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- Pastor Martin Niemöller

I am not sure I like the headline using crazy. It ok for inside jokes but not at a public forum. Just the facts with a little bit of spice please.

Agree 100% with Rachel - one would think that if a candidate's mental health (or physical health, for that matter) were a barrier to holding office, it would manifest itself in some way in the campaign, or in the candidate's prior work history. At that point, health history becomes relevant and newsworthy.

I think this is salacious reporting masquerading as in-depth reporting. This is journalism pretending to ask tough questions when they're really just being intrusive. The end result may sell and get ratings but don't pretend this has anything to do with actually informing the electorate. The same press that dubbed Pawlenty a "likeable" guy is not going to redeem itself by delving into Mark Daton's mental health records. You want a tough question, next time ask Pawlenty why he thinks it's better to let people die than raise their taxes, THAT'S a good question.

Mr. Brauer, I come this from another perspective. I don't suffer from any mental illness but I spent fifteen years treating it. I've worked with the most severe mental illnesses from chemical dependency to schizophrenia, (including severe depression and mood disorders)here's my take. No, you don't want a schizophrenic running the state. Yes, severe depression is a challenge. But the media has no business delving into these matters because not only are they private, but if the illness is severe enough to interfere with a politicians performance, they're not going to get elected in the first place. You have to be functional enough win an election which means whatever your medical condition is, you're managing it, and it's no ones business. People like yourself are not stupid, they have some concept of their limitations and they don't pursue careers they don't think they can handle. And none of us have any business telling anyone with any mental illness what careers they can handle, people try and succeed or fail like everyone else. It's widely believed by psycho-historians that Abe Lincoln suffered from major depression for instance, but obviously he did the job and did it well. I think your looking at a self selecting population, I don't see how someone who's mental illness is going to interfere with their performance becomes a viable candidate in the first place regardless of public access to medical records, the illness itself, not public knowledge of it is the limiting factor. Chronic conditions, like yours are exactly that, chronic. There may periods or more or less severity but it's not like it disappears for years at time, say long enough to become president.

The only thing I'll say about chemical dependency is I think if someone has been court ordered to treatment, that's public information and fair game. Someone's DUI, or assault record is public information. But if you've never had an encounter with the law because of your issues, they should remain private. I say that because if the courts have gotten involved, for once thing that information is not a violation of privacy, but also that's a strong indicator of recidivism, and a high level of impairment, depending on how recent it is. Think Janklow.

In other words, if you have to ask if someone suffers from a mental illness, that illness is by definition irrelevant. If they have an issue that's impairing their functioning you won't need to even ask. It's their behavior that will cost them the election, any other job, not their medical records.

I doubt most people care if a gubernatorial candidate had a testical or breast removed, got the H1N1 shot, had cancer, or has depression . . . they care if their gubernatorial leader can make the state work, and we'd best determine that by a campaign and statewide discussion of ideas and our future.

The Strib's move on this is a talker . . . and is bush league. With their limited resources, the Strib would best serve readers in this reader's mind by helping facilitate a statewide discussion of how Minnesota is going to get back on top.

It seems like a lot of people are assuming the type of story the star tribune is thinking of running. just because they are researching doesn't mean it will be written and no one knows the angle of the story under consideration.

Also, I find it hard to believe that questions of this type weren't asked in the pre-internet days. the only reason this is a debate is that someone passed along the email to Politics in Minnesota instead of taking a stand on their own.

To me, the issue that this raises is a question of trying to control the media. If the subject of a journalist's information requests doesn't like the question is posting the question or leaking it a way of trying to shut up the reporter? or prevent the reporter from looking into an issue?

Thanks Paul Udstrand and Tom Horner.

I would prefer to read much more in-depth reporting about candidates' legislative, executive, and leadership styles and effectiveness. In other words, about their actions and how well they play with others and the world in accomplishing the agendas of life.

As a journalist and a Coloradan who is half Minnesotan, add my name and a half-dozen colleagues here at the Post to the category marked "appalled." Should we remind ourselves that it's our own newspaper Health sections that often claim mental and physical health are the same thing? So why not demand every detail about the candidates' physical health as well, including whether they've taken Lipitor, Xanax, Tagamet and let's not forget the story possibilities accompanying a Viagra disclosure. It's a gutless, tasteless and unprofessional manner in which to pursue whatever story they think they'll wind up with. And then for the Strib to refuse to talk about it or defend it . . . do we really need to give the readers more good reasons to despise us?

//To me, the issue that this raises is a question of trying to control the media. If the subject of a journalist's information requests doesn't like the question is posting the question or leaking it a way of trying to shut up the reporter? or prevent the reporter from looking into an issue?

I don't know where you're going with this. Medical records aren't private, but the questions reporters ask are? We all have to be accountable one way or another for our conduct. Any journalist who can be intimidated my the threat of such a disclosure has serious problems.

@Paul Udstrand

if a candidate who received this request really had an issue, they had a few options-no comment, none of your business; ignore; and/or issue a press release themselves and at least take ownership for having an issue with the questions.

by sending it to a third party, they want the best of all worlds. not having to answer the questions; not being held accountable for answering or not; and making this type of questioning (hopefully) go away.

maybe a journo who could be scared off so easily does have problems, but what about editors and publishers being scared off? what if this wasn't a political candidates but corporations who might decide to cut advertising?

this time it is about mental health but it doesn't always have to be.

Mike Booth is my new favorite journalist. Don't worry, David, you're still in the top 5.

If you're going to dig into the health, mental or physical or emotional, of the candidates, where does it end? Do you want to know who suffers from chronic kidney stones? Who has asthma? Which males have prostate cancer or gout? Which females had a hysterectomy? If you delve into mental health, are you going to ask if the illness originated from circumstances or from biological factors? Do reporters now believe themselves to be doctors who can interpret all the illnesses? And what about diseases that are systematic, such as hepatitis C? Are reporters trying to open a Pandora's box or merely a can of worms? No good can possibly come of such inquiries. If a particular candidate has health issues that would make him an unlikely choice for public office, that is certain to come out during the long campaign. It seems that the Strib is turning into a gossip rag such as the Star.

To Adam Platt on his post above:

Dayton inspires no passion? Surely you jest!

I don't like the Strib's question because it is limited to mental health. But if candidates' health is fair game for inquiry, it should include both physical health and mental health. Voters want to know whether a health condition could impair a candidate's ability to properly perform the duties of the office. On that issue, mental health is no more nor less relevant than physical health. The question is impairment. And the candidate's record of behavior and functioning speaks to that more loudly than a diagnosis, physical or mental.

Besides, to treat mental illness as something that can't be mentioned reinforces the stigma. It's like in Seinfeld, when it's observed that someone is gay, & Jerry says "not that there's anything wrong with that." It seems somehow patronizing to say mental illness should be off limits. The brain is an organ. It can malfunction just like other organs. That should not be a cause for shame. But it could be important information about a candidate's future behavior.

(Full disclosure: I am a lawyer in the Ramsey County Attorney's office and an employee of Susan Gaertner, a candidate for governor. I work in the civil commitments unit, which seeks involuntary mental health treatment for people with mental illness. I am also on the Board of the Hamm Clinic, a non-profit mental health clinic in St. Paul. This is my personal opinion, not the opinion of my office, Susan Gaertner, or the Hamm Clinic. Also, I work 80% time and today is my day off, so these comments are on my personal time, not the county's).

Just to be clear, as I think David will recall, the original tweet I made on the subject was the singling out of MENTAL health.

The stigma doesn't come from not talking about. It doesn't come from talking about it. It comes from treating that element of health as different from... you know... the health of "normal" people.

//Voters want to know whether a health condition could impair a candidate's ability to properly perform the duties of the office.

Do they? Did voters know about FDR's Polio? What conditions might "impair" a candidates ability by the way? Diabetes? Asthma? Colitis? What do you think, every elected official currently serving is the picture of perfect physical and mental health? Medical records are confidential for a reason, keeping them that way doesn't stigmatize anyone. The invasion of privacy will not promote human dignity. If we're all gonna start voting based on our "medical" evaluations of candidates seriously, stick a fork in us... we're done.

An apt quote:

"If you open that Pandora's box you never know what Trojan horses will jump out."
- Ernest Bevin, 1881-1951

Bob Collins, yes, you are right, that's exactly what you said:

"Sure. When you ask them to reveal all of their health records." (In response to whether it is ever okay to ask candidates to reveal mental health records).

And I agree.

I really appreciate all the comments on this topic. I worked very hard advocating for mental health parity. I think if we would have had this new media earlier we would have had parity much sooner. I think comment #32 was spot on, well said Beth. I was very open about my struggles with depression as a candidate, but I know others would rather not disclose.I feel if we decide to run we must be prepared to be asked just about anything.

David, I am very impressed with you discussing your own personal struggles with mental illness. I have fought it for 25 years and have had a productive and rewarding personal and professional life.

I find the Strib question to be completely out of bounds. People do not understand mental illness. Many people still think you just pop a Prozac and life is good. Mental illness has many causes, be it chemical, traumatic experiences, family history, etc.

If someone can make it through a campaign and get elected, then they were functional enough to serve. Just as I can't ask a prospective employee if they have panic attacks, I shouldn't ask my potential representatives.

Again David, you added a great personal perspective to this issue.

How does one establish the criteria for mental instability?

If a candidate has a savior-complex that may affect the choice of others that mental 'obsession' to be diagnosed as mental illness?

Could be the excessive need to control others is a form of mental disability and could be harmful to fellow citizens? Then I suppose candidates for public office would dwindle considerably by such testing requirements and deny their viability for public office.

Who will be the professionals making the judgment calls? Who will be the state's psycho-technologists who will make that call or dismissal?

The political arena is a scary place if a few decide the mental stability of others; and then where next? Who judges? And who pays the professionals making the call on any citizen's opportunity to serve as a candidate for the state?

Funny how slowly,yet so quickly,change happens; so that it becomes difficult to remember when the right-of-privacy was considered a constitutionally ensured human right.

Justice hackers erode the system one wee step at a time until poof!... A follows B follows C...who then will be candidly considered, or cursed, as 'enemy of the state'?

Blink once, twice and see what the future will hold maybe?

Is this the year, the decade, when psycho-profiling becomes the order of the state?

//I feel if we decide to run we must be prepared to be asked just about anything.

That's probably a good idea. However, I'm not sure turning elections into episodes of Dr. Phil is going to end well.

Interestingly (to me), no one has pursued Mr. Brauer's line of thought about treated vs. untreated issues -- apparently you can be a sociopath that hides it well and get elected if you've never pursued (or been forced into) any kind of treatment, but if you've actively attempted to deal with mild depression, the Strib can beat on you like a rented mule.

And I don't have much appetite for the "let's get it out in the open and start to fight against stigmatization" argument. Essentially you're telling a candidate, "sacrifice your career hopes so that someday in the future someone else won't have to." If you think that's a good idea, do it your damn self.

Where do you draw the line? Asking about mental health issues is okay, but asking when you stopped beating your wife is not? What about asking Larry Craig about his sexual orientation, or David Vitter about his marital fidelity? They're apparently a barrel of laughs for late-night comics, but does either have any impact on whether they can perform their duties effectively?

I'm a believer that running for office is a job interview, and journalists should be barred from asking any question you can't ask in any other job interview. I'm also in favor of complete transparency, so I reject Jason DeRusha's idea that a journalist shouldn't have to disclose their questioning. Stand behind your questions or don't ask. Asking a candidate for transparency without offering it yourself is called hypocrisy. Pretty simple.

Lastly, thanks in this case to Sarah Janecek and David Brauer for watching the watchdogs. I get a big laugh every time some hack complains that his/her **JOURNALISM** (which is apparently next to godliness) is questioned. Even my first-grader understands the concept of "do unto others ..."

This is one of the best discussions I’ve seen in the New Media – or any media - about a current and important intersection of major public issues: how the press works and how society deals with mental health.

I think the Strib’s intentions were good, but ham-handed.

Few would, I think, disagree that it’s important for the public to know if a candidate for high office suffers from a major illness that has or could affect the candidate’s ability to function. But a blanket survey of candidates asking for disclosures is not the way to do it. It should be questioning of individual candidates when there are specific facts that warrant them.

As an old philosophy major, and an old courts reporter who has covered insanity defense issues in criminal cases and mental commitment actions in civil court, I have concerns about the public’s understanding of mental health and illness. And, about what psychologists and psychiatrists can really tell us about any particular person at any specific time with a reasonable degree of certainty.

I’ve often thought that many of our politicians and institutional leaders would have an interesting diagnosis based on the DSM-4 personality scales often cited by mental health professionals in court proceedings. Not a few would probably have a diagnosis of something like Anti-Social Personality Disorder with Narcissistic Tendencies. That would also be true of not a few journalists and cops, I think.

Science is pretty new in the course of human history.

Psychology and Psychiatry are really new. We should all tread lightly when discussing them, citing them or using them in public discourse.

We’re not that far removed from witch trials. To many 18th Century American Puritans those seemed reasonable ways of getting to the truth.

James, I suppose I have to agree with you disagreeing with me. I am happy to put all my questions out for public review. But I do think consumers of news should be a little more understanding that questions will occasionally be stupid, ham-handed, inaccurate, stupid, uninformed, poorly phrased, etc. Nobody judges Apple for the 26th draft prototype of the iPod. You get judged on your final product, and I think journalists deserve the same.

First, my hat is off to Mr. Brauer for being so forthcoming with his own history. It sounds as if we might have been in a position at some point to meet at Mickey's at 4:00 a.m. to discuss the night's issues.

This discussion is based in part on a faulty assumption i.e., a belief that physical and mental health are different things. The fairly well established fact is that mental health, good or ill, is rooted in the physiological, just as much as every other aspect of human health. Mental health issues cover a broad range of conditions, all of which are grounded to one degree or another in genetics, in utero and post-partum development, nutrition, and the environment in which we live our lives. The same can be said of the many forms of cancer.

If a candidate ingests potentially mood-altering drugs on a daily basis, does it really matter whether the candidate is self--medicating (alcohol or some illicit drug) had been prescribed Vicodin or methadone for chronic pain, or takes a combination of anti-depressants to correct a bio-chemical imbalance? I don't think so. What does matter, it seems, is the moral judgment which still attaches to mental health conditions in the minds of so many.

Those who we've got a handle on how to break down stigma might want to check out this article in the New York Times Magazine:


//questions will occasionally be stupid, ham-handed, inaccurate, stupid, uninformed, poorly phrased, etc. Nobody judges Apple for the 26th draft prototype of the iPod. You get judged on your final product, and I think journalists deserve the same.

Garbage in garbage out dude.