Lina Hidalgo is one of the fastest-rising stars in Texas politics. The 32-year-old Colombian immigrant won an upset election in 2018 and has been leading Harris County, which encompasses Houston, ever since as the county judge, making her in charge of the fast-growing, fourth largest metropolitan area in the country.
Despite her success, Hidalgo has been battling clinical depression and experienced suicidal thoughts that led her to check herself into an inpatient treatment center in Ohio in July. She left Houston just after an event to unveil a new mural painted by a supporter in her honor — and snuck out of town without informing her security detail.
Leaving was an "extremely difficult" decision," Hidalgo told CBS News, although she remembers thinking, "I'm sick. I gotta go." She now believes it was a life-saving choice.
"I do think there's a world in which I would have, I would have killed myself, and I wouldn't be here," she said in her first interview since receiving treatment.
Hidalgo said that before she left, she felt "so trapped" and like there was "no way out." She was exercising and sleeping and eating well, and tried going on vacation and to "cool concerts." But nothing — including having a psychologist and psychiatrist — seemed to help.
"I'm still feeling so down and so empty and so sad and ... I had been feeling suicidal again, worse than ever before and several times, over the months, I just felt like this is too much," Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo, who heads Harris County's governing body as the county judge, returned to work Monday after a nine-week leave of absence in order to be treated for clinical depression. She is among almost a third of Americans who have beenat some point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That marks a 10% increase from a decade ago.
For a public figure like Hidalgo, who runs a county of nearly 5 million people, the third most populous in the U.S., with a budget exceeding $4 billion, seeking help for mental health issues was not without its challenges, as people warned her she would never survive it "politically." She said at some point, she had to stop thinking about what her constituents would think because if she continued to do so, she would have never left.
Her determination to seek help was buoyed by reading about the struggles of Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, who sought treatment for depression earlier this year and successfully returned to work. Hidalgo believed she could do the same.
She said the hardest part of seeking help was admitting to herself that she needed it.
Then came the cost of treatment. Seven weeks of inpatient treatment totaled around $88,000. She said her longtime boyfriend covered most of the cost with his personal savings.
"We are not in a great financial position right now. We're fighting the insurance company," she said.
Despite facing criticism, including calls to step down from her political opponents, Hidalgo said she is feeling "better than ever now."
"It's like I wish I'd done it sooner," she said.
As she returns to work, Hidalgo continues her treatment, which includes therapy, medication and exercise. She also said she's even more determined now to stay in politics.
"For now, I've got to focus on this job, but folks are scared of me for a reason, right? So I'm not going to put those fears away just yet," she said.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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