Jason Kander’s decision to withdraw Tuesday from the mayor’s race to seek treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder will surprise many Kansas Citians.
Anyone who reads his courageous and candid statement, though, will reach the same conclusion: Kander made the right choice for himself, his family and his community.
We applaud his strength in reaching this decision, and his bravery in making it public.
Kander served in Afghanistan more than a decade ago. His letter says he is now confronting the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“I still have nightmares. I am depressed,” Kander, who was an Army intelligence officer, writes.
“Instead of dealing with these issues, I’ve always tried to find a way around them. Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems.
“I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me,” Kander says. “But it’s just getting worse.”
A week ago, Kander contacted the Kansas City VA Medical Center, tearfully discussing prior suicidal thoughts.
Kander says he is getting the help he needs, but did not believe he had earned. “I was afraid of the stigma,” he writes. “I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out. That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.”
It’s a wrenching, deeply personal message.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, and it affects hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women. As Kander confirms, PTSD can affect veterans who seem to have it all: a successful career, a family, a supportive community.
Anyone suffering from PTSD should ask for the help they need. Other Americans should see it for what it is: a mental health condition that can be treated. And no one who is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder should be forced to forgo treatment for fear of embarrassment or repercussions in their personal or private life.
“I hope (this decision) helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own,” Kander writes.
“Most people probably didn’t see me as someone that could be depressed and have had PTSD symptoms for over decade, but I am and I have. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.”
There will be time to assess the impact of Kander’s decision on the mayor’s race. The field of candidates remains deep and impressive. The city must make important choices next year, and the discussion of those issues will continue.
For now, Kander should take all the time he needs to focus on his mental health, and Kansas Citians should give him that space. He says he’s also stepping away from his role at Let America Vote, a voters’ rights organization.
Kander, a former U.S. Senate candidate, has emerged as a rising political star, both on the national stage and here on his home turf. When he’s ready, we hope he will still want to contribute to the community he calls home.
“I’m passing my oar to you for a bit,” Kander says. “I hope you’ll grab it and fight like hell to make this country the place we know it can be.”