Daniel Brazzell was home when he first heard the news about Jason Kander.
The Marine who served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm had to think for a moment. Jason Kander was the guy who assembled that rifle while blindfolded in that campaign ad, right?
Then Brazzell read Kander’s “personal announcement” explaining why he was dropping out of the Kansas City mayoral race. He read about Kander’s struggles with PTSD and his suicidal thoughts. He read about his hesitancy to get help, and it all resonated.
“I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world,” Kander wrote. “I still have nightmares. I am depressed.”
Brazzell could relate. On Wednesday, he was optimistic about the impact that Kander would have on vets like himself and so many who suffer from mental health issues. Kander, Brazzell said, ripped a shroud off a deep, dark secret that has remained far too deep and dark for so many.
“Honestly, it feels liberating,” said Brazzell. “It was like, wow, yes! That’s what I’ve been talking about. He’s done something that no one’s really done that I know of. To be so open about it, it was amazing.”
Mental health professionals were encouraged, too. If someone with Kander’s stature can be so candid and so public with his struggles, then surely others who deal with demons can now step into the light and ask for the help that Kander seeks.
“That’s one of the bravest things for somebody at his level to do that I’ve seen in a long time,” Brazzell said.
Susan Rome, deputy director for Johnson County Mental Health, said Kander has signaled that there’s no statute of limitations on seeking help. He’s underscored that even a successful, way-too-busy person like Kander can slam on the brakes to focus on his mental health.
She called it heroic. And courageous. And maybe even groundbreaking. Here’s Kander, at 37, with a hugely promising political career ahead acknowledging that he’s had suicidal thoughts and needs help. Yes, it’s a risk, but Rome thinks the positive, embracing reaction Kander’s received signals that many Americans now understand more about mental health and would support Kander in a future political campaign once he’s undergone treatment.
That’s big. “I do think we’re in a better place with a lot of the stigma that’s out there,” Rome said.
For Brazzell, it was just a week ago when he finally decided to tell colleagues at Team Fidelis about his own struggles with PTSD. Based in Overland Park, Team Fidelis works to end the epidemic of veteran suicide. Still, opening up with colleagues even in an organization like his was brutally difficult for the 48-year-old founder of Team Fidelis.
“You always want to be the leader,” Brazzell said. “You want to be strong. You want to be that rock for them.”
Then Kander came along and made it OK to open up.
Brazzell served on a minefield breach team. He knows the sound of incoming artillery. He’s experienced bullets and bombs. He’s seen death.
He also knows what PTSD can do to a person. Thanks to Kander, he also knows that going forward, it’s OK to raise a hand and say, “I need help, too.”
There’s an irony here. Jason Kander isn’t even in public office right now, and he may have just made the biggest contribution that he’ll ever make.