The Dornsife College of Arts, Letters and Sciences canceled its Distinguished Lecture event, which was scheduled for Sunday, after the speaker dropped out of the Kansas City, Mo., mayoral race.
Jason Kander, who was set to run as a Democrat in Kansas City and speak at the event, announced that he would be dropping out of the race to treat his chronic PTSD and depression.
Kander served as an Army Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan 11 years ago. Since then, Kander said that he has dealt with suicidal thoughts and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression but avoided seeking treatment.
“I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world,” Kander wrote in a statement published on his website. “When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.”
After seeing the statement, Ali Bissonnette, chief of staff at USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future, said her team assumed the event would be canceled but contacted the event donors and Kander’s team to confirm.
Robert Shrum, director of the Center for the Political Future, sent an email to students who RSVP’d following Kander’s announcement. Shrum previously said that Kander had been selected to speak because of his service in the army and his political involvement. Before becoming a frontrunner in the Kansas City mayoral race, Kander was a former Secretary of State in Missouri and the Democratic nominee in the 2016 Missouri senate election.
“He’s an outstanding person,” Shrum said. “[He’s] exactly the kind of person we should have for the lecture.”
Since the cancelation notices were sent out, Bissonnette said students have shown sympathy and understanding for Kander’ decision to focus on his mental health.
“Most of the people I’ve spoken with have spoken words of support about [Kander’s] bravery in coming forward with his challenges and putting his own health and mental well-being first,” Bissonnette said.
In his statement, Kander said that he plans to come back to politics after he goes through treatment. The politician wrote that he decided to be public about his struggles with PTSD and depression to help others who are facing similar struggles and encourage them to also seek treatment.
“I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own,” Kander wrote. “Most people probably didn’t see me as someone that could be depressed and have had PTSD symptoms for over a decade, but I am and I have. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.”
Shrum said that he commends Kander for stepping away from politics to take time for himself. Shrum hopes Kander’s withdrawal and public statement will help more people understand PTSD and other mental health issues.
“A lot of politicians, a lot of people in public life would’ve just said, ‘I’m going to push ahead with my political career,’ and he has decided that he’s going to deal first with these problems and then come back to the political world,” Shrum said. “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, I think you have to admire him.”