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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Thursday announced she will return to work on Oct. 2, extending her temporary leave of absence while receiving treatment for clinical depression.
Hidalgo, considered a rising star among Texas Democrats, said she was diagnosed with the condition in July and checked into an out-of-state facility to undergo treatment. She was scheduled to return to work in early September.
A statement from Hidalgo outlined that she will begin receiving outpatient treatment once she is discharged from the mental health facility on Saturday. She explained that her doctors recommended a “re-acclimatization period” outside the hospital before returning to her regular schedule.
“The way my doctors explained re-acclimatization to me is that you would not go from heart surgery straight to running a marathon, in the same way that they do not want me to go straight back to my usual schedule,” Hidalgo said in the statement.
Hidalgo serves as Harris County’s top elected leader, guiding policy for the nation’s third-largest county.
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been presiding over the county’s four-member Commissioners Court while Hidalgo has been undergoing treatment. Her chief of staff has been handling her office’s day-to-day operations during her absence.
Hidalgo issued the statement one day after her former Republican opponent, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle calling for her to return or resign.
“We are less than a week away from a pivotal Sept. 19 vote to raise taxes on Harris County residents, yet County Judge Lina Hidalgo has yet to resume the duties of her office,” Mealer wrote. “We all applaud her personal decision to receive treatment for depression and are sympathetic to everyone struggling with mental health issues, but we must also be equally sympathetic with the residents of Harris County who are suffering from brutal inflation, unacceptable crime rates and crumbling infrastructure.”
Hidalgo’s spokesperson, Brandon Marshall, told the Houston Chronicle that the Harris County judge will continue to rely on the advice of her medical team on when to return, not political opponents.
Kathleen Thompson, executive director at Progress Texas, a liberal advocacy group, voiced her group’s support for Hidalgo.
“While Judge Hidalgo transitions from residential to outpatient care, progressives across the state continue to wish her the best,” Thompson told The Texas Tribune. “We all love someone who has sought treatment for short- or long-term illness and mental illness should be treated the same.”
Hidalgo was elected as county judge in 2018 after she unexpectedly ousted Ed Emmett, a Republican who had enjoyed bipartisan support. Since then, Hidalgo has built a national profile as she led the county’s efforts to combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases during the early days of the pandemic and became one of the state’s most prominent Democrats — as well as a major target for Texas Republicans.
It’s unusual for elected officials to speak candidly about their mental health diagnoses, but recently it has become a little more common.
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has spoken openly about dealing with depression after he sought care this year.
This led to messages of support by other elected officials who also revealed their own mental health struggles.
Major depressive disorder — often referred to as depression — is a common but serious medical illness that leads to a variety of emotional and physical problems, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It can decrease someone’s ability to function at work and at home.
Depression can cause feelings of sadness, difficulty thinking, loss of energy, and thoughts of death and suicide. Mental illness can occur at any time in someone’s life, but it can also be triggered by a medical condition. Studies have found a high likelihood of it being genetic.
For someone to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, symptoms must be present every day for at least two weeks. While certain factors increase the risk of developing depression, it can affect anyone, at any age. More women experience depression than men, but the reason behind this is unclear.
Most Texans probably know someone who has depression. More people across the country have been diagnosed with the condition since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2021, 43.4% of adults in Texas reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and more than half of Americans reported that the lockdowns and other impacts of the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Between 80% and 90% of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Common treatments include antidepressants, talk therapy and developing coping skills.
Mental health crisis services are available in Texas through local mental health or behavioral health authorities. These services are available 24/7 and can include crisis assessments, intervention services and relapse prevention services.
Disclosure: Progress Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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