Depression and the art of honesty

Is the medical history of gubernatorial candidates relevant?(polls)

Former Sen. Mark Dayton revealed in a Sunday column that he’s suffered from alcoholism and depression. It’s now an issue in his quest to become governor. In politics, there’s often a price to be paid for honesty.

On Sunday afternoon, a Star Tribune reporter asked Dayton for more details of his admission, but Dayton reportedly said such details are “private.

Few afflictions can kill a candidacy faster than mental illness. In many ways, it’s still 1972, when Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton was whisked off the ticket with George McGovern after he acknowledged he suffered from depression and had undergone shock therapy.

John Hottinger, the former president of the Senate, confided after he left office that he suffered from clinical depression. He now speaks occasionally on the topic, “Mental Illness is a Disease Not a Character Defect.”

Lawton Chiles retired from the Senate, and then announced he was suffering from depression. Patrick Kennedy was treated in Rochester for depression.

In 2002, an advocacy group called the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance released a poll that showed that 24 percent of all Americans would not vote for a political candidate with a mood disorder, according to the Washington Post. An equal percentage said they “might not vote” for such a candidate.

The Star Tribune’s following up on Dayton’s acknowledgment, however, now raises another question in the governor’s race. Should all current candidates now be asked if they’re being treated for any illness or have ever been diagnosed for it?

If people believe that it’s none of our business, then Dayton’s mistake — politically speaking — was in being honest.