Pennsylvania Representative Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, came to ITE/MH’s attention when he published, in response to Robin Williams’ death, an op-ed about his own experiences with depression. At the time, we reached out to Rep. Schlossberg, inviting him to join the Campaign as an Ambassador. He responded immediately and enthusiastically and has been an Ambassador since the fall.
Now in his second term, Rep. Schlossberg, who lives in Allentown, is a strong advocate for better mental health programs and services. We wanted to hear more from him about how his own recovery has inspired his work as an elected official and what factored into the decision to publicly share a very personal story. Below are five questions with Rep. Schlossberg, who is the Evidence of both personal recovery and supporting others.
When Robin Williams died, you wrote a really wonderful, very personal op-ed about your own experience with depression as a college student. Can you briefly share your story with Spotlight On readers and tell us what type of support helped you.
Two days after Robin Williams died, I saw a Facebook status in which someone lamented that Robin Williams must not have had enough faith in Jesus, and that was clearly why he killed himself. That status had me infuriated—I could practically feel the steam coming out of my ears, and as a result, I wrote an op-ed that detailed my 14 year journey with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. For me, I’ve seen a therapist, as needed, during that time period. I’ve also been on anti-depressants since December 2002.
As a person with lived experience and a policy maker, you can influence and support recovery by being the example and advocating for recovery-oriented policies. In telling your personal story publicly, you were able to address stigma in a unique way. What compelled you to share? As a public official, did you have any hesitations? If so, how did you overcome them?
It was the Facebook status that really set me off. I saw that online and went to bed steaming…the next morning, I woke up around 5am, thought, “The hell with it,” and wrote the op-ed. It was online by 6pm the next day. As for hesitations, no, but it was funny…I wrote the op-ed, submitted it, and didn’t even blink. Then, when the editors said, “We love it, and we are running it today,” I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. The reality of it getting published was the most frightening part. However, I had always wanted to write the article…and, sadly, William’s suicide provided me with the opportunity.
How has your personal experience made you more supportive of policies, programs, and services that support mental health recovery?
Because I get it. Too often we, as policy makers, live in a vacuum in which we forget that real people’s real lives are impacted by our decisions. When someone discusses depression, anxiety, addiction, I know how real they are, and I can use my personal experience to fight for more funding and better programs.
You are an ITE/MH Ambassador and at a recent event in Allentown also received a surprise ITE/MH Award in recognition of your publicly standing as the Evidence of recovery. What does it mean to you to have received the award?
A great deal! That was a nice surprise. On a purely personal level, I greatly appreciated the acknowledgement. It seemed easy to me at first, but that op-ed wound up being more emotionally difficult than I expected. I really appreciated the acknowledgement, and I hope I can continue.
Tell us a bit about the new PA mental health caucus. As the chair, what can you say about the caucus’ priorities and what you hope to achieve?
More than anything else, awareness. We have +30 members now (more than 15% of the House), and I’m hoping to use the caucus to better educate members about the real struggles that people with mental illness face. From there, I hope the caucus members will be more inclined to advocate for mental health related issues.