Mental health

Rep. Adam Smith opens up about mental health struggles: ‘It is really important to share’

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is opening up about his mental health journey, after saying he had a “huge concern” for years about facing stigma from his colleagues in Congress or his constituents.

“I first had a [major] anxiety attack in 2005 that lasted five months. Throughout that process, and then again in 2013, I thought, ‘I have to make sure that a very limited number of people know about this because if they find out, I’m done,’” Smith said in an interview with The Seattle Times published Wednesday.

“[Now,] I feel it is really important to share what happened. I understand much better the value of having that conversation for everybody,” Smith told the paper.

The 58-year-old lawmaker is the author of the new book, “Lost and Broken: My Journey Back from Chronic Pain and Crippling Anxiety.”

Smith described to the Times being in “a very bad place” for six years, writing on notepads in an attempt to figure out what was wrong with himself.

“As I was coming out of that bad place in 2019, I thought, ‘How do I organize my thoughts on that journey? Chronologically, how did this happen? What did I learn?’” Smith said.

“It came together and felt like a story worth telling. If you’re talking about anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, in some combination, millions of people in this country have gone through something like that. I thought it could be a helpful story,” the former attorney said.

The coping methods he learned through cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and psychotherapy, Smith said, were a big help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A psychologist told me it’s not the amount of stress in your life, it’s how you process it,” the congressman said. “That was completely contrary to my way of looking at the world at that point. I realized later that I was trying to figure out how to reduce the stressful events in my life.”

While “a lot of progress has been made just in the last three years on reducing stigma” surrounding mental health, Smith said, he doesn’t “want people to think that the stigma has been eliminated.”

“If you feel like you have mental health problems that you’re not able to handle, [many people think] ‘Am I gonna lose my job? Am I gonna lose relationships that are important? Will people look at me differently?’”

Providing mental health services, Smith said, is a “collective community problem.”

“We all collectively have to look at how we’re providing those services and what the approach is, and why it’s not working as well as it should,” he said.

“We need to bring together all of the players to try and give us the best chance of dealing with it.”

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