For ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, some of the very characteristics
that marked his rise to the forefront of the Clinton administration as senior
advisor to the president for policy and strategy were also harbingers of an
impending depression—a feeling of always needing to achieve more, for
instance, because he was not measuring up to his own
Lloyd Sederer, M.D. (left), and George Stephanopoulos discuss the unique
pressures Stephanopoulos faced while serving in the Clinton administration as
the senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy.
"For a long time, things that later turned out to be a problem for me
were also key to my professional success," he told psychiatrist Lloyd
Sederer, M.D., who is executive deputy commissioner for mental hygiene in New
York City and a former director of APA's Division of Clinical Services.
Stephanopoulos sat down with Sederer for the third annual Conversations
event of the American Psychiatric Foundation last month at APA's 2004 annual
meeting in New York City. AstraZeneca provided an educational grant to support
The two discussed aspects of Stephanopoulos's depression, subsequent
recovery, and views on how the subject of mental illness is portrayed in the
media. Stephanopoulos has written about his experiences with depression in his
1999 autobiography, All Too Human.
Looking back at the once-in-a-lifetime educational and professional
opportunities— such as a Rhodes scholarship that enabled him to study at
Oxford University in England in his early 20s and his later stint in the White
House—Stephanopoulos noted signs of his then-unrecognized
Of his time in the White House, he said, "This was an unprecedented
privilege, and I didn't feel like I was taking it all in and appreciating the
things I was seeing."
Instead of fully realizing the importance of his work, he said, "I
was just getting through the day."
A few months after the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster
in July 1993, whom Stephanopoulos considered a friend, he began seeing a
His description of his therapist was met by laughter from audience
members—"I guess you could say she was somewhat old school and
didn't talk much," he noted.
Initially, a central concern for him was the confidentiality of his therapy
sessions—if subpoenaed, for instance, would laws prevent his therapist
from having to divulge the contents of their sessions? Only after researching
confidentiality laws and getting his therapist's assurance that the sessions
would be kept private were his worries put to rest.
In therapy, Stephanopoulos said, he struggled with issues that are common
to many patients but that for him were pronounced due to the nature of his
work. "I had this issue where I always felt like I was on stage and was
being watched—which was true," due to his high-profile job, he
He also had a tendency to "internalize things" and "worry
that things could go wrong," he said. "It turned out that in the
first year of the Clinton White House, I did have responsibility for a lot of
things, and a lot of things were going wrong," Stephanopoulos
His symptoms began to manifest themselves physically—he developed
rashes and experienced insomnia frequently. Another symptom threatened his
ability to function normally—"I couldn't break the sensation of
nails [scraping] on a chalkboard or fork tines on a plate," he recalled."
I could imagine the sound at any moment, and once it started, it
wouldn't go away."
After being referred to a psychiatrist, he began taking an antidepressant
medication, and many of his symptoms disappeared "relatively
quickly," he said. "I could both do my job and enjoy what I was
supposed to enjoy and was so much more clear than I had been in about a
year," Stephanopoulos said. He discontinued the medication after leaving
his post at the White House because "the drugs were not necessary when I
was not dealing with that day-to-day kind of stress," he noted. He said
he continues to be involved in psychotherapy.
Although he believes there is less stigma surrounding mental illness than
in years past, Stephanopoulos said, "there is still a ways to go"
in terms of providing access to care. "People are becoming more and more
aware of what mental illness is... yet we haven't expanded our ability to care
for those people who are now aware they have a problem."
In his opinion, those who have helped to raise awareness of mental health
issues include CBS News correspondent Mike Wallace, who has spoken openly
about his experiences with depression; Robert Boorstin, who served as special
assistant to President Clinton and who has written about his experiences with
bipolar disorder; the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, whom Stephanopoulos described
as a "happy warrior and a special man"; Tipper Gore, wife of the
former vice president; Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.); and ABC News medical
analyst Tim Johnson, M.D.
"Talking matters," Stephanopoulos told Sederer. "Talking
about these issues openly is important." ▪