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Trump reaches another low in threat to "out" Heidi Cruz battle with depression

Mar 29, 2016

I’ve got some good news about this year’s presidential campaign. For the first time in what seems like forever, there are no primary or caucuses to obsess over today. We only get a one-week reprieve, however, Wisconsin votes next Tuesday.

What I am selfishly hoping this means is a brief break from the junior high school locker room fight otherwise known as the Republican nomination contest.

Had you written what’s happened so far as a proposed sitcom script, I’m pretty sure you would have been thrown out of the studio, even at Saturday Night Live. But reality has indeed brought us the soap opera from hell. Just in case you somehow missed last week’s installment, the plot revolved around insulting the two front-runners wives. Someone produced, posted and tweeted an ad for Ted Cruz featuring scantily clad bordello-style photos of Donald Trump’s wife.

Cruz denied any connection with this, but Trump then attacked Cruz’s wife, tweeted an unflattering picture of her with a sexy one of his own wife, and threatened to “spill the beans” on Heidi Cruz’s background. Senator Cruz then called Trump a “sniveling coward,” etc. etc.

These are, by the way, men who want us to put them in charge of our economy, and trust them with nuclear weapons. Whatever you think about that, it turns out what Trump was apparently threatening to “spill the beans about” was Heidi Cruz’s past battles with depression. That angered Tom Watkins, the CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

Watkins contacted me last week to say threatening to “out” someone for depression is despicable. “We have been attempting to fight the stigma that prevents people from seeking the diagnosis, treatment and support they need to address the illness,” he told me.

“Illnesses from the neck up are as real as illnesses from the neck down,” he added. Watkins knows what he is talking about from more than the standpoint of a health care administrator. He had two brothers who struggled with depression for years.

Both eventually committed suicide.

Years ago, I sat one afternoon in an Ann Arbor restaurant with Mike Wallace, the famous take-no-prisoners reporter best known for his merciless investigative work on 60 Minutes. I had worked on a story once with him, and grew up regarding him with awe. But that afternoon, he told me about his personal struggles with depression and the urge to kill himself, and I was speechless.

Then I remembered Heinz Prechter, who came to Michigan from Germany as a penniless teenager, pioneered the idea of putting sunroofs in cars, and became wealthy.

He owned newspapers, had a beautiful wife and might have been appointed Ambassador to Germany, had his demons not caused him to hang himself one summer morning in 2001. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, almost fifteen million American adults struggle with depression and anxiety disorders every year.

Shaming them is as contemptible as shaming someone in a wheelchair, and may be more harmful if it prevents someone with depression from getting treatment.

It would be nice if Trump’s disgraceful behavior helped lead to more public awareness of what depression really is – and that with treatment, recovery is possible.

But there’s still no excuse for a man who would be President to be such a jerk.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.