Depression

On Friday, The Tribune revealed that District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill was going to temporarily step aside from his duties as supervisor to manage depression. This comes on the heels of a recent controversy involving Hill privately telling one of his constituents to “f— off.”

Depression is no excuse for behaving badly, and Hill acknowledged that point, but it should be discussed openly.

Some of Hill’s detractors have a point that his demeanor gets in the way of focusing on issues that matter, and it’s certainly become a distraction. Before the latest controversy arose, I was working on a column addressing a completely different topic. I’m distracted, but now this distraction has taken a life of its own and become painfully real.

For the past four years, there has been a flurry of negative coverage about Supervisor Hill from the hard right. A lot of unsubstantiated allegations were thrown around about him, many of which were personal and targeted people close to him. In fact, the atmosphere revolving around these allegations got so toxic that it expanded to people who supported Hill personally and politically. As many of my readers know, I’ve been repeatedly attacked based on the demonstrably false notion that I’m somehow part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to harass and “shut down” his critics as a “business associate.”

For every negative and accusatory article about him, there are people who’ve repeatedly accused him of mental illness. In fact, they’ve laughed at him for what they perceived was mental illness. They ridiculed and shamed him for something that — we now learn — is a lifelong struggle. This online trolling has gone mainstream and become part of an ongoing conversation on the “Dave Congalton Show.” Congalton, who is obsessed with Hill and his foibles, has laughed at Hill for something millions of Americans experience.

Immediately, my critics will read my words and think, “But you’ve accused one of Hill’s most vocal critics of being mentally unstable. Aren’t you part of the problem?” It’s true. I have, and maybe I am part of the problem. This person has authored over a hundred negative articles about Supervisor Hill, at times accusing him of orchestrating shortcomings in her personal life. Never has she once apologized or acknowledged that she might have a problem. As a result of these articles, Hill — and anyone who supported him in spite of those articles — was harassed and threatened repeatedly, sometimes by her. Many of the allegations featured in her articles were unsubstantiated or were demonstrably false. Hill has apologized for behavior that was clearly inexcusable, but Karen Velie still hasn’t apologized for behavior she was successfully sued for and lost. Yet who does she blame for the lawsuit that an unanimous jury found merit for? You guessed it: Adam Hill.

Politicians should have a thick skin. They’re elected officials. They’re supposed to handle criticism, even when it gets personal. But in a county as small as San Luis Obispo County, rumor and innuendo can be incredibly suffocating even for local officials.

People start treating you a little differently, perhaps with some trepidation. It starts with shifty-eyed looks and inconspicuous whispers. Then people start avoiding you. Rejection becomes a big part of life. For a clinically depressed person to feel rejection, it’s horrifying. You can tell a young person getting bullied through high school that it gets better because they have a chance to graduate and effectively distance themselves, but adults living with depression don’t have that option. Politicians and public figures are no exception. But those with depression all feel the same disconcerting feeling: it stays. It lingers and even thrives if left unchecked. Being the target of false accusations can wear anyone down, but those with depression will have a far tougher time coping.

I would know. I’ve suffered from depression, probably for similar reasons. Unlike Hill, it’s not a lifelong condition for me, but it’s certainly been a part of my life. Fortunately, I’ve been able to overcome it enough to talk about it without being ashamed.

People will think Hill’s personal revelation is somehow an excuse or some public relations-savvy pivot, but we can all agree Hill’s candor about the subject is something that a lot of people can relate to. By having that discussion, we can literally save lives and be a part of the solution. But if we lower ourselves to flinging personal insults and innuendo of someone who knows they have a problem and is seeking help, we’re not part of the solution. It’s time we take a course correction, engage in a robust dialogue on depression and encourage others to do the same.

Aaron Ochs is a columnist, marketing entrepreneur and founder of SLO Truth. Ochs is also involved in his community as founder of Save Morro Bay (www.savemorrobay.com).