“Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo takes leave of absence to treat depression” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, considered a rising star among Texas Democrats, will temporarily leave her post leading the state’s most populous county to receive treatment for clinical depression, she announced Monday.
Hidalgo said she was diagnosed with the condition in July and checked into an out-of-state facility to undergo treatment late last month. She aims to return to work in early September.
“From the beginning of my tenure as County Judge, I have stressed the importance of mental health services,” Hidalgo wrote in a letter Monday afternoon to Harris County residents. “Depression and other mental health illnesses are part of the human condition, and mental health illnesses should be treated just like any other health condition. I feel so strongly that we should be open and forthright about mental health issues, which historically have been tarred with stigma that have prevented people from seeking the treatment they need.”
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis will preside over the county’s four-member commissioners court while Hidalgo undergoes treatment, she said. Hidalgo’s chief of staff will handle her office’s day-to-day operations.
Hidalgo serves as Harris County’s top political leader, guiding policy for the nation’s third-most-populous county.
She won the position in 2018 when she unexpectedly ousted Ed Emmett, a Republican who had enjoyed bipartisan support. Since then, Hidalgo has built a national profile as she led the county amid the COVID-19 pandemic and became one of the state’s most prominent Democrats — as well as a major target for Texas Republicans.
It’s unusual for elected officials to speak candidly about their mental health diagnoses. U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has spoken openly about dealing with depression after he sought care for the condition earlier this year.
Hidalgo said, “My experience has been difficult, but I am taking it as an opportunity to be open about my own struggle, my own challenges, and to encourage others, who need help, to seek treatment. All of us know someone — a friend, a coworker, or a family member — who suffers from depression. I encourage every person that is struggling with mental health challenges to look for support in your community, your loved ones, and your doctor.”
Last year, Hidalgo announced a $14.3 million initiative using American Rescue Plan Act funds to increase access to mental health services in Harris County. A few months before that, the city of Houston set aside $21 million for mental health and domestic violence prevention training for its police department.
Major depressive disorder — often referred to as depression — is a common but serious medical illness that leads to a variety of emotional and physical problems, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It can decrease someone’s ability to function at work and at home.
Depression can cause feelings of sadness, difficulty thinking, loss of energy, and thoughts of death and suicide. The mental illness can occur at any time in someone’s life, but it can also be triggered by a medical condition. Studies have found a high likelihood of it being genetic.
Most Texans probably know someone who has depression. More people across the country have been diagnosed with the condition since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2021, 43.4% of adults in Texas reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and more than half of Americans reported that the lockdowns and other impacts of the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
One common myth about depression is that it’s only triggered after a sad or traumatic event, but symptoms can appear at a very young age and can stay with someone for the rest of their life. It’s not a “mood” but a clinical disorder that medically affects the brain’s ability to work properly unless treated.
Depression is among the most treatable mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Common treatments include antidepressants, talk therapy and developing coping skills.
Mental health crisis services are available in Texas through local mental health or behavioral health authorities. These services are available 24/7 and can include crisis assessments, intervention services and relapse prevention services.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/08/07/harris-county-lina-hidalgo-depression/.
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