When Mental Health Treatment Becomes a Political Identity

As a rising young Democratic star and the top elected official of Harris County, the most populous in Texas, Lina Hidalgo surprised many people last summer when she announced that she had checked herself in at a residential mental health clinic for serious depression.

She had been struggling privately for years, even as she stepped forward assertively to preside over Houston’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and help residents throughout the county deal with flooding and a devastating winter freeze.

Then, during a brutal re-election fight in 2022, her mental state worsened. Aides were aware that something was wrong — there were missed campaign events, and shortness with staff members — but few knew just how dire things had become.

“I remember feeling really suicidal, and saying to David, my boyfriend, and to my therapist at the time, ‘We have to do something,’” Ms. Hidalgo said.

Since her return from nearly two months of treatment at the clinic, Ms. Hidalgo has spoken openly and often about her mental health, making her struggles an increasingly central part of her political identity.

In an extended interview with The New York Times, she talked candidly about her depression, her decision to seek treatment and the trauma of childhood sexual abuse that she has rarely discussed.

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