It has been said over the course of this year’s statewide campaigns that Texas politics is a full-contact sport, one that draws blood. The recent flare-ups in the Republican primary runoff for lieutenant governor serve as evidence enough of this harsh reality. In the past week, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has been dragged through the mud on a number of different issues involving his personal life. First, a former rival of his — Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson — disclosed that Patrick had previously been admitted to a facility in order to seek treatment for depression. Furthermore, the allegation that Patrick has previously tried to kill himself, specifically by slitting his wrist, has been made in an attempt to damage his credibility among voters.
This editorial board has never been a fan of Patrick’s political positions. But no person, sympathetic politically or not, deserves the unfair onslaught that he has received from his adversaries. A person’s medical records should be kept confidential, and should definitely never be used in a harmful way against a candidate. Like any other illness or ailment, Patrick’s depression is not indicative of a character flaw and is truly irrelevant to the information voters need to make up their minds. To his credit, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Patrick’s opponent in next week’s runoff, has derided the cruel nature of these attacks.
However, we believe that the negative repercussions of these attacks reach much further than simply the lieutenant governor’s primary. We are particularly worried about the consequences of an uptick in negative stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment. If just one person eschews treatment out of fear of bad publicity, or puts off what could be a promising career in politics because of past struggles with depression, it would be one person too many.
Mental illness is not something to be stigmatized. Like any other type of illness, it requires treatment without judgment or prejudice. If anything, the stable and healthy life that Patrick has lived in the 30 years since his struggles should be a testament to his success, an example that many of these afflictions do not have to carry such a terrible prognosis.
By dredging up these old stories, Patterson (and, indeed, all of Patrick’s most rabid detractors) cheapens the terms of the debate and lowers the bar, so to speak, in politics once again. We certainly think that Texans deserve better.