News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Documents Detail Dan Patrick's Mental Health History, But Will Voters Care?

LM Otero
Associated Press
State Sen. Dan Patrick is a Houston Republican.

Update: On Friday night, Jerry Patterson, an ally of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, released new court documents that suggest Dan Patrick -- Dewhurst’s GOP opponent -- was treated for attempted suicide and more serious psychiatric conditions in the 1980s than Patrick had acknowledged.

Patrick’s campaign Thursday night said he was hospitalized for “mild depression and exhaustion.” 

On Friday night, Patrick issued this statement:

“As I have said, I voluntarily entered the hospital twice in the 1980s for exhaustion and to seek treatment for depression. Some of the prescribed medications exacerbated my condition and created more serious problems. Through prayer and with the help of my family and physician, like millions of other Americans, I was able to defeat depression. I have not seen a doctor or taken any medication to treat depression in nearly 30 years. Two weeks ago, I released a medical report indicating I am in excellent physical and mental health; I am ready to serve."

Patrick's statementdid not address the reported suicide attempt.

Original story: Will voters in 2014 care about news of a politician’s psychiatric treatment nearly three decades ago?

That’s the question swirling around lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick, whose campaign has confirmed he checked into a psychiatric hospital in the 1980s for treatment of “mild depression and exhaustion.”

The campaign was responding to the release of court documents Thursday night in which Patrick acknowledged being diagnosed with a chemical imbalance for which he once took anti-depressant medication.  

The documents came from lawsuits Patrick and former Houston Post writer Paul Harasim filed against each other following an altercation at a Houston sports bar. The records were emailed to reporters by Jerry Patterson, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination and is now supporting Patrick’s runoff opponent, incumbent David Dewhurst.

Disclosure angers Patrick backers, but gives some voters pause

The documents began showing up on websites just as a rally of conservative activists was breaking up in Greenville.

Tea party organizer JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America, has endorsed Patrick and said she’s angry that opponents are peddling such personal information.

“I know that Sen. Patrick went through a period of depression. He has talked to his supporters about this,” Fleming said.

“Anyone who decides they are going to make an issue of somebody’s personal health issues -- whether it's mental illness, whether it's depression or whether it's cancer -- it’s wrong. And it’s low-rent.” 

Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads the conservative group Empower Texans said: “It is beneath contempt to start talking about people’s health records.”

Both Fleming and Sullivan said the mental health revelation won’t alter their support of Patrick.

But some of the voters at the rally said psychiatric treatment could affect the way they view a candidate.

“Just the drugs you have to take to control things if it’s a physical thing (could be a problem),” Sonia Meyers said. “I would have a concern but I would also look at the full picture. [It] doesn’t mean they can’t serve.”

Stigma exists, says a lawmaker with bipolar disorder

One legislator who knows about serving while controlling a mental illness is Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat.

He was already a member of the Texas House in 1995 when he began talking openly with other elected officials about his bipolar disorder, which he controls with medicine. 

Coleman says colleagues have been supportive but he often feels the stigma that comes with disclosure.

“Although there may not be anybody saying anything to me, I can feel the mood around me,” said Coleman, who believes mass shootings around the country have made it difficult to separate the incidents from mental health conditions and educate the public about effective treatments.

“If somebody asks me today should they tell their boss about their serious mental illness and my answer is, because people have asked, 'don’t tell them.' Because I can’t tell you today is actually better than 10 years ago,” Coleman said.

Even so, he would like to see Patrick open up about his treatment. 

“We haven’t had enough champions who people can look at and say: 'if they can do it, I can do it.' Someone who employs people will look at (Patrick) and say: 'He’s successful, he’s conservative. I should be understanding with my employees,'” Coleman explained.

Coleman says being bipolar hasn’t hurt him politically. He’s been reelected 11 times since first taking office in 1991.

Campaigns react

Unlike Coleman, Patrick’s campaign claims the candidate doesn’t have an ongoing mental health condition.

The campaign released a doctor’s letter stating Patrick hasn’t had symptoms of mental health problems or taken related medication for many years.

The Thursday release of the court documents came four days before early voting begins Monday in the runoff race between Patrick and Dewhurst.  

On Friday evening, Patterson began releasing additional records claiming they’ll indicate Patrick has battled something more severe than mild depression.

Patterson said he’s sending out the documents because, he claims, this is another instance in which Patrick hasn’t been truthful.

“It’s not the mental illness, it’s the lying,” Patterson said in a statement. “We had a legendary lieutenant governor who had mental health issues. Everybody knew it, and he did just fine and was respected by all. His name was Bullock. The difference between them was one is a pathological liar.”

Dewhurst has sought to distance himself saying: "Commissioner Jerry Patterson operates completely independently of my campaign, and over my objections he chose to release information from Mr. Paul Harasim's files, which are all part of the public domain. My heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they've endured while coping with this situation.”

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.