The Republican primary campaign has been a complete circus. You’re familiar with the list by now: This race has included a thinly veiled reference to Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle, the slagging of Mexican immigrants as rapists, not-too-sly remarks about the size of multiple candidates’ penises, a joke about Donald Trump pissing himself, a proposal to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” and more.
Given how the GOP primary has gone down so far, the idea of it sinking into a “new low” is a bit hard to conceptualize. And yet a new low is exactly where it seems headed, now that Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, has apparently been deemed fair game and dragged into her husband’s fight in as ugly a manner as possible.
This latest development was kickstarted by Trump’s tweet to Cruz the other night threatening to “spill the beans” about Heidi, sparking the brief spectacle of two presidential candidates openly beefing on Twitter. No one is entirely sure exactly what he meant, but his tweet is being widely read as a possible reference to a 2005 incident reported last year by McKay Coppins and Megan Apper of BuzzFeed:
Around 10 p.m. on the night of Aug. 22, 2005, the Austin Police Department dispatched Officer Joel Davidson to an intersection a couple miles west of the Texas city’s downtown. A passerby had called to report that a woman in a pink shirt was sitting on the ground near the MoPac Expressway with her head in her hands, and no sign of a vehicle nearby. When the officer arrived, he found the woman on a swath of grass between an onramp and the freeway. She said her name was Heidi Cruz.
According to a police report recently obtained by BuzzFeed News, Officer Davidson proceeded to question Cruz, whose husband, Ted, was then serving as Texas solicitor general. He asked what she was doing by the expressway; she replied that she lived on nearby Hartford Street, and “had been walking around the area.” She went on to tell Davidson that she was not on any medication and that she hadn’t been drinking, aside from “two sips of a margarita an hour earlier with dinner.” He wrote that he “did not detect any signs of intoxication.”
“About a decade ago, when Mrs. Cruz returned from D.C. to Texas and faced a significant professional transition, she experienced a brief bout of depression,” Jason Miller, a Cruz adviser, explained to Coppins and Apper. “Like millions of Americans, she came through that struggle with prayer, Christian counseling, and the love and support of her husband and family.”
In theory, this could be an important nudge forward for the national conversation about mental health. That’s because when you speak with mental-health advocates and researchers, one word comes up over and over again: stigma. People who feel ashamed of their condition, or who believe that it implies a personal failing on their part, are much less likely to seek treatment or social or familial support.
This can quite literally be a life-and-death matter when it comes to conditions like depression that are associated with a heightened risk of suicide — psychological problems are inevitably exacerbated when the afflicted feel they must suffer in silence, and that they lack the support of other human beings. Stigma affects not only the sufferer, but also their friends and family: if they don’t feel like they can reveal their loved one’s condition to others, they end up shouldering too heavy a burden. In short, the more we can talk openly about mental health, the better off we’ll be.
The process of defeating stigma involves — among other things — telling as many real-life stories as possible about people dealing with mental-health issues. When those people are famous, that’s arguably a “bonus”: it’s a sign that even successful people deal with these problems (which of course they do). Every little bit helps, so it’s inspiring to watch high-profile people like athletes discuss mental-health problems openly.
All of which is why it’s so depressing to watch how some Trump supporters are now going after Heidi:
These attacks have a self-perpetuating nature to them, and are only likely to get worse. And all they do is spread the false notion that either of the Cruzes has something to be ashamed about — and that, by extension, other people dealing with mental illness do, too.
Cruz herself has decided she doesn’t want to talk about what she went through. According to a source close to her, Coppins and Apper wrote, she “was not ashamed to talk about her experience… [but] ultimately decided against it because she didn’t want to minimize the struggle of those who suffer from depression their entire lives by trumpeting her own happy ending.”
She has every right to make that decision for herself — no one is obligated to be a spokesperson — but it’s still profoundly important for stories like hers to come out, for people to simply know that the wife of a presidential candidate dealt with this sort of challenge, isn’t ashamed of it, and has continued to live a rewarding life — and to see that most other people aren’t reacting with horror or disgust. That anyone would weaponize Heidi Cruz’s mental-health problems suggests we have a long way to go before we defeat the stigmatization of mental illness, and it does very real harm to people who are suffering.