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Longtime mental health advocate Tipper Gore takes centerstage

By Eileen O'Connor/CNN

June 7, 1999
Web posted at: 10:27 a.m. EDT (1427 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 7) -- Tipper Gore steps into the spotlight Monday as she hosts a White House conference on mental health. In many ways, the event marks a debut of sorts for her, stepping from the shadows of her husband, the vice president and presidential hopeful, into the spotlight.

But for Mrs. Gore, mental health isn't just politics; it's personal.

"I once suffered from depression, clinical depression, and went for treatment, which worked, I'm happy to say," Mrs. Gore told CNN in a recent interview.

Tipper Gore
Tipper Gore is hosting a White House conference on mental health  

Such an admission just a decade ago from candidates or their spouses was enough to ruin political aspirations. Take Tom Eagleton, who admitted undergoing electroshock therapy. The political aftershock of that revelation was enough to bump him from a McGovern's ticket in 1972. Betty Ford and Kitty Dukakis admitted to their own torment and subsequent substance abuse only after their husbands' presidential campaigns.

Observers say Tipper Gore talking about it now in public forums serves to inoculate her against further regulations. But she denies she's bending to political pressure. She says her motivation comes from a desire to remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

Mrs. Gore has two degrees related to family therapy. Her interest was first inspired by her mother, who suffered from clinical depression herself, but often in silence because of the stigma attached to those who admit to mental illness.

"I would hope that we would do away with the stigma. I would hope that people would not feel shame attached to this. If I had a broken arm, you would tell me to go to the doctor," she said.

"You know, people get sick for a short amount of time or maybe a long amount of time; it just depends on what organ of the body it's emanating from; and with depression, it's from the brain, and, really, we need to understand that, and we don't need to be ashamed of it," Mrs. Gore continued.

Mrs. Gore's personal experience with depression is just part of her longstanding interest in mental health. But she says her advocacy turned to action only after a drive with her children, where they spotted a group of mentally ill homeless people.

She explained: "They would say, you know, "What's wrong with her? Who is she talking to?" And I'd say, 'Well, she's hearing voices, and, you know, she's probably mentally ill.' And they'd say, 'Well, mom, we can't leave her here. Who's going to take care of her?'"

During her husband's term as vice president, she now goes out incognito, volunteering on the streets. That experience has hardened her resolve and Mrs. Gore promises to hammer home some unpopular points at this conference as well, like the fact that balanced budgets have come at a cost -- one is access to care.

"We're not going to shy away from anything, and we're going to talk about the fact that there are areas where people do not have access to treatment," she said.

As for what she will do if she were to pick up the added clout of first lady status: "I'm going to continue to work on the issues that I've always worked on. I mean, this is my life work -- you know, mental health, the status of children, women."

Tipper Gore may not always love the spotlight, but so far, she's making it work for a cause that's close to her.


RELATED STORIES

White House conference targets attitudes towards mental illness (6-7-99)

Clinton issues new employment standards for mentally disabled (6-4-99)

Mental health reform: What it would really take (TIME, 6-7-99)

Living with schizophrenia: It's possible with medication (Health, 10-15-98)

Congresswoman helps shake stigma of mental illness - (Health, 6-10-98)


IN-DEPTH

Mental Health: The Brain


VIDEO

CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports on the discrimination against one woman with a mental disability (6-4-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K


RELATED SITES

Office of the Surgeon General

National Institutes of Health

National Bioethics Advisory Commission

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill



MORE STORIES:

Monday, June 7, 1999

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