In July, Democrat Jason Kander announced his campaign for Kansas City. Today, Kander announced on Twitter he’s dropping out of the race and “passing his oar” for a bit to focus on his mental health.
Kander, an Army veteran, admits that he has suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts. He says he contacted the Veterans Administration about four months ago to get help, but he was still in denial about his state of mind.
“It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day. So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it,” Kander says. “But, on some level, I knew something was deeply wrong, and that it hadn’t felt that way before my deployment. After 11 years of this, I finally took a step toward dealing with it, but I didn’t step far enough.”
Kander says he filled out VA forms online but left boxes unchecked because he was too scared to acknowledge his true symptoms.
“I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma,” he says. “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.”
Kander has had early political success as a former Missouri State Representative and Secretary of State. He came close to beating Missouri Republican Roy Blunt in 2016’s U.S. Senate race. Kander lost to Blunt by just 78,000 votes, in a race where more than 2.8 million ballots were cast. Prior to entering the mayor’s race, Kander was seen as an up-and-coming young Democrat and considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate.
He also says his first book became a New York Times bestseller in August, his voting rights organization – Let America Vote – is gaining ground, and his campaign has raised more money than any Kansas City mayoral candidate ever has in a single quarter.
“But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts. And it wasn’t the first time,” he says.
Kander says he’s “done hiding his health from himself and from the world”. He says he still has nightmares.
“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. But it’s just getting worse,” Kander says. “So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”
Yesterday, Kander went to the Kansas City VA facility and started the process to get help there regularly.
“I truly appreciate all the support so many people in Kansas City and across the country have shown me since I started this campaign,” he says. “But I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression.”
Kander says he will also be taking a step back from day-to-day operations at Let America Vote.
Several other candidates, mostly city council members, are also running for the Kansas City’s top office next year. Mayor Sly James, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.
“I’m proud of Jason for having the courage to share his struggle, and for doing what he needs to do to take care of his health,” says Mayor James. “This could not have been an easy decision, but I know Jason is doing what is right for him and his family, and I’ve never been more proud to call him my friend and colleague. His track record of outstanding service and tireless work ethic have raised the bar for many who aspire to serve in elected office. I applaud his bravery, and will do all I can to help him through his healing process.”
Kander questioned whether to go public with his reason for dropping out of the race. Two reasons led him to not shy away from sharing his story.
“First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, I hope it 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. 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,” says Kander. “I wish I would have sought help sooner, so if me going public with my struggle makes just one person seek assistance, doing this publicly is worth it to me.”
His message includes the VA Crisis Line: 1–800–273–8255. Non-veterans can also use the number.
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