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Health in public office: Is it an official’s duty to disclose health problems?




California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's announcement of her long battle with depression has yielded applause from supporters and critics who say she should have disclosed it earlier.
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's announcement of her long battle with depression has yielded applause from supporters and critics who say she should have disclosed it earlier.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

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California Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently disclosed that she suffers from severe depression, saying that it’s something she’s dealt with depression for decades, but not discussed it publicly because of stigma.

Bowen’s announcement inspired an outpouring of concern and support, including some who applauded her bravery for candidly discussing mental illness. But discussion around Bowen’s depression also includes a debate about whether she should carry out her final term in office (she will be replaced after this years election due to term limits). Bowen cited her sporadic absences and major life changes as signs of her depression, which she describes as “debilitating.” While no elected official has called for her resignation, one candidate for the Secretary of State office contends that Bowen can’t do her work from home, and some critics have said she should have disclosed her depression sooner.

Is it an elected official’s duty to disclose physical or mental health problems, and if so, when? At what point does a mental illness render someone ineffective -- how should an elected official approach a “debilitating” health concern in the public eye?

Guests:

Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School, Vice President of the L.A. Ethics Commission

Dan Walters, political columnist at the Sacramento Bee