Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state whose U.S. Senate bid brought him national attention as a rising Democratic star, stunned the political world Tuesday by dropping out of the mayoral race in Kansas City, Missouri. He said he needed to pursue treatment for depression related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
"After 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it's faster than me. ... I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it," Kander posted Tuesday.
Kander's honest and eloquent explanation for suspending a promising political career should serve as inspiration to other PTSD sufferers to face their condition and get help. If he eventually returns to politics, it will attest to America's societal evolution on mental health issues since the days when Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri had to leave a national ticket for once sought psychiatric treatment.
Kander, 37, an attorney, served in Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer. Even before Tuesday's announcement, there had been hints of how that tour affected him. "Given the nature of my job over there, I had been worried less about being shot or blown up and more about being kidnapped," Kander wrote in his autobiographical bestseller, "Outside the Lines," published this year. "And now that I was back in my own bed, it seemed that the Taliban captured me every night."
Nonetheless, Kander ventured into politics and was elected secretary of state in 2008. In 2016, as Donald Trump dominated Missouri by almost 19 percentage points, Kander came within three points of unseating Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) — aided by an ad that circulated nationally in which he assembled a military rifle while blindfolded.
When Kander entered Kansas City's crowded 2019 mayoral race this year, victory seemed a virtual certainty. But the whole time, Kander wrote Tuesday, he was struggling with nightmares, suicidal thoughts and other PTSD symptoms.
He finally contacted Veterans Affairs authorities on Monday to begin treatment. "If you're struggling with something similar, it's OK. That doesn't make you less of a person," he wrote. "I wish I would have sought help sooner, so if me going public with my struggle makes just one person seek assistance, doing this publicly is worth it to me."
Missourians know something of what seeking mental health treatment can do to a political career. Eagleton was briefly the Democratic Party's 1972 vice presidential nominee. He was forced to leave George McGovern's ticket after revelations of his treatment for depression years earlier.
We hope times and attitudes have changed. With this episode, Kander has shown himself to be the kind of honest, straightforward leader we should encourage in public service. But his first priority should be to concentrate on getting the help he needs.
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