As Senator John Fetterman, D-Pa., continues treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman's wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, shared photos of her family spending time together, opening up a conversation about how families handle a parent's depression.
Gisele Fetterman also tweeted a snapshot of the inspirational messages her children made for their dad.
The notes from Karl, 13, Grace, 11, and August, 8, included portraits of all seven family members — including the family dogs, Levi and Artie — and affirmations like "Fetterman 4 life," "Best Dad Ever," and "You will get better!"
In one note signed by August, the 8-year-old wrote: "Dad, just let you know I am allway in your hart."
“We can do hard things when we do them together. So proud of João, the kids, and everyone who’s shared their own struggles with us in the past few weeks," Gisele Fetterman wrote in a tweet accompanying the photos. "It gets better.”
John Fetterman has been undergoing inpatient treatment for clinical depression at Walter Reed Medical Center since Feb. 15.
“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” Adam Jentleson, Fetterman’s chief of staff, said in a statement at the time. “After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself.”
In 2022, John Fetterman suffered a stroke before going on to win the Pennsylvania Senate race. Depression is common post-stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.
“Estimates are somewhere up to a third of patients with stroke will have depression at some point after their stroke," Dr. Lee Schwamm, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who is not involved with Fetterman’s care, told NBC News.
An estimated 1 out of every 6 adults will experience depression in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One 2021 study found that 1 in 14 children has a parent or caregiver with poor mental health.
It’s good for children to know about their parents’ mental health struggles in age-appropriate ways, says Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis who is not treating Fetterman. Gold adds that it's important for children to "see parents as humans."
"Being as honest as you can be, for your own comfort level, helps your kids not only not feel lied to, but know that struggling is normal and asking for help is OK," Gold tells TODAY.com. "It can really make a difference in a child's future if they ever struggle."
Seeing someone that you love hurting is really hard, and being a parent who is trying to explain that to kids is really hard.
Dr. Jessi Gold
In late February, Gisele Fetterman shared how the coverage of her husband's mental health condition was impacting her family in a series of candid tweets.
"I am not really sure how to navigate this journey but am figuring it out slowly," she tweeted. "One week ago today when the news dropped, the kids were off from school and media trucks circled our home. I did the first thing I could think of … pack them in the car and drive."
The mom of three shared that she drove "straight into Canada and lovely Buffalo" with her kids, adding that the four of them "talked about lots of hard things and how we will all have to face hard things."
"We did some scary things but we did them together. We ziplined over Niagara Falls and August got stuck. We talked about flexibility and the need to always have an open heart and an open mind," Gisele Fetterman tweeted. "We also talked about how joy and fun can and must still exist, even when someone we love is in pain. And tomorrow? Who knows. Will try all over again."
Gisele Fetterman received backlash from some who criticized her decision to "leave the country" while her husband was in treatment.
"I'd be right there. I'd be with him," right-wing commentator Megyn Kelly lamented on her podcast. "Well, you're not if you're Gisele Fetterman. Just so the audience knows, Gisele Fetterman has decided not go to the hospital, but to go to Canada."
Gold says that while "social support across the board" is important for those struggling with their mental health, "we can't neglect the fact that it's going to have effects on the family."
"It's important to be aware that you can take care of your own mental health, too," Gold says. "You should be able to say: 'Yes, my loved one is the one who is struggling, but caregiving for someone is really hard, seeing someone that you love hurting is really hard, and being a parent who is trying to explain that to kids is really hard."
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, MD, psychiatrist and author of "Real Self-Care," agrees, adding that "there is no 'right way' for a family to cope with hard times, especially when doing it in the public eye."
"Real care as a parent is less about outward manifestations and much more about ... being present, respectful and providing psychological safety," Lakshmin tells TODAY.com.