Mayoral Candidate Leaves Race To Deal With PTSD, Depression

By Kelly Burch 10/04/18

"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.”

Jason Kander
Jason Kander Photo via YouTube

A Kansas City mayoral candidate and veteran of the war in Afghanistan has dropped out of the race in order to address his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Jason Kander, a rising Democratic star, reached a campaign milestone last week, but instead of celebrating the occasion he found himself reaching out for help.

“Last Tuesday, I found out that we were going to raise more money than any Kansas City mayoral campaign ever has in a single quarter,” Kander wrote on Medium. “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.”

Kander served as an Army Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan before leaving the Army 11 years ago. His book about his service, Outside the Wire, became a bestseller this summer. However, about four months ago Kander says he reached out for help, saying, “My tour over there still impacted me every day.”

“I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it,” he wrote. “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 filled out forms online to get treatment from the VA. 

“But I left boxes unchecked—too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms,” he wrote. “I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma. 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 served as Missouri’s secretary of state from 2012 to 2016. Last year he started Let America Vote, a voting rights group. He will also be stepping back from day-to-day operations of that organization while he gets treatment. 

“I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed,” Kander wrote. “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 said he knew that he wanted to be upfront about why he’s leaving the race. 

“I decided to be public for two reasons: 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,” he wrote. “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.”

Read Kander’s full statement here

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.