“First we have got to get Gerald elected. Then we have to get him some psychiatric help.” I heard this said by one of his supporters at a candidate forum over 15 years ago.
Gerald was an incumbent county elected official facing a primary and possible general election challenge. His behavior in office had caused some to wonder about his mental health. The absolute lunacy of the supporter’s statement shocked me. I had reached out to Gerald to try to reason with him. Many of us were discouraged at our inability to reach him. Years earlier he had been such a bright and good-natured lawyer.
Gerald lost the primary. A few years later he passed away. I heard it was clear to those who saw the state of his living conditions at his time of death that suspicions about his being mentally ill were well founded.
Actually, having a mental illness was not an impediment to Gerald’s job performance. Having a mental illness go untreated was Gerald’s downfall. Had Gerald sought and received treatment he could have done an outstanding job serving the county.
The stigma of mental illness was even stronger then than now. Many who sought and held public office refrained from getting help for addiction, depression, or other mental illnesses for fear of public exposure and ridicule. First Lady Betty Ford’s courage in seeking treatment for addiction and speaking out about her situation made it easier for others to seek help with less fear of ridicule.
Many years after he left the White House we learned that President Ronald Reagan began suffering from the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s while in office. First lady Nancy Reagan and others shielded him from public exposure. While I cannot blame her for protecting the man she loved I have serious concerns about allowing someone in that condition to govern.
Now many ponder about whether President Donald Trump’s words and actions are due to his being mentally ill. History will ultimately reveal whether President Trump is mentally fit or unfit. Even if he is not suffering from any mental impairments the reality is that we may quite possibly find someone in an office such as President with mental illness or brain impairments.
Someone could begin a campaign or be inaugurated before showing sign one of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Or someone could suffer a series of minor strokes, mental illness or brain tumors while in office. While there are provisions in the law for when such an officeholder becomes completely impaired, there are not protections when the impairment is less than total.
My heart goes out to Nancy Reagan and others who find their loved one, friend, boss or political ally compromised in such a way. I can also understand the fear of losing power and control.
But in such circumstances patriotic duty must overcome the temptation to deny the impairment. I believe that propping someone up to appear as the person in charge cannot be in his or her best interest health wise. “We have to get … psychiatric help” needs to come first.