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Mental health

The Washington Post reports on the sentencing of the corrupt Congressman from California, Randy "Duke" Cuningham:

Former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) "bullied and
hectored" Defense Department officials to ensure that two contractors
who were bribing him "received their pound of gold" and profits of up
to 850 percent, federal prosecutors contend in a new court filing that
urges a federal judge to give Cunningham a maximum 10 years in prison
when he is sentenced tomorrow.

But defense attorneys countered in
court documents that Cunningham, 64, is depressed and suicidal and
should receive a six-year term, in recognition of his service as a Navy
pilot who once shot down three enemy planes over North Vietnam in a
single day.

I could see lots of reasons for Cunningham to be depressed and suicidal:

Cunningham resigned from the House after pleading guilty in November to
tax evasion and conspiracy to take $2.4 million in bribes from two
defense contractors and two New York businessmen in return for setting
aside, or earmarking, federal money for them in spending bills.

Stealing oftens yields to remorse.  Getting caught is always bad for one’s mood. 

I know that depression is not the same thing as being in a bad mood.  But the defense claim of depression comes from a psychiatric evaluation paid for by the defense.  I have a feeling it’s not that objective an evaluation.  But it is illuminating nonetheless:

Saul J. Faerstein, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist hired by
Cunningham’s attorneys, concluded after a 5 1/2 -hour examination of
the former House member last month that he "now manifests evidence of a
Major Depressive Disorder with suicidal ideation."

traced many of Cunningham’s physical and mental ailments to his time in
the Navy. For example, injuries sustained when he ejected into the Gulf
of Tonkin after his F-4 fighter jet was hit over North Vietnam in 1972
have left him with "chronic pain and limited mobility," he wrote.
Cunningham also has osteoarthritis and in June 1998 received a
diagnosis of prostate cancer that required surgery and radiation.

OK.  Physical problems from combat, yes.  But where’s the depression come in?

The psychiatrist said Cunningham’s severe depression and anxiety began
in mid-2005 as the corruption investigation closed in on him.

I could see that investigation having a negative impact.  But that’s the old story of the kid who kills his parents and asks for sympathy as an orphan.  The psychiatrist needs a better story to explain the full picture of Cunningham’s mental health.  And surprise!  He finds it:

But he saw its roots in the former congressman’s heroic exploits as a fighter

Get that?  The roots of Cunninghams depression and suicidal ideation were planted in Vietnam.  How would that work exactly?

Being "praised and rewarded for his conduct" gave Cunningham "a
sense of omnipotence which was an adaptive psychological defense
mechanism," Faerstein wrote.

Thus Cunningham "came to the job of Congressman with the outsized sense
of ego and a mantel of invulnerability. . . . The process of
rationalizing his behavior blinded him to the corruption it entailed,
and led him to behave in ways totally antithetical to his life
history," the psychiatrist concluded.

A sense of omnipotence?  An outsized sense of ego?  A mantel of invulnerability?  I guess most members of Congress are able to develop "an adaptive psychological defense mechanism" even without fighting in Vietnam.  Or maybe the lesson is that we ought to do a psychiatric profile of politicians before they enter Congress rather than on the way out.


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