JEFFERSON CITY _ What began as Rick Hardy's quest for the U.S. House of Representatives has now become a campaign to bring public awareness to mental illnesses.
More than a year ago, Hardy, an M.U. political science professor, dropped out of Missouri's 9th District congressional race because of a severe bout of depression.
Now, after treatment, Hardy said he wants to educate the public about the disease that stopped him from pursuing his dream.
"I would like to erase the stigma attached to depression," Hardy said at a Capitol news conference that focused on Mental Health Awareness Week. Along with the stigma, Hardy said he wants to erase the public's ignorance of the disease. "That ignorance almost killed me," he said.
In 1992, Hardy challenged the Democratic incumbent Rep. Harold Volkmer for the congressional seat that covers northeast Missouri. Although Hardy lost that race, his prospects in 1994 looked promising - until depression hit.
"It was probably as painful as anything I've ever experienced physically," Hardy said. "My head was spinning, I was forgetting people's names and I went months and months without getting any sleep."
After battling the illness for five months, Hardy sought help.
"What happened to Mr. Hardy happens to many people," said Joseph Parks, Hardy's doctor and deputy director for psychiatry for the Mental Health Department. "Ten percent of men and 20 percent of women (suffer from depression)."
Hardy was hospitalized for 11 days and took medication for months afterward. It was during his hospitalization that Hardy decided to drop out of the race.
"I went from being in Newt Gingrich's office and the inner circle of the Republican Party to being on my hands and knees in a mental illness ward," he said.
Parks said that if depression is detected early, hospitalization can be avoided.
Symptoms for depression include:
* Change in appetite
* Feeling of hopelessness and isolation
* Withdrawal from activity
* Moodiness and irritability
* Decrease in energy level
Because Hardy has depression in his family history and a personality that's typical of sufferers, Hardy was a prime candidate for depression, Parks said. Hardy describes himself as a perfectionist and a workaholic who survives on five hours of sleep per night.
Although highly-driven individuals are more prone to depression, Parks said that anyone can get the disease. "People have a vulnerability to an illness, they hit their stress point and it comes on," he said.
Both Hardy and Parks stressed that depression sufferers need treatment.
"It has made all the difference in my life," Hardy said.
Hardy said that during his hospital stay, he started wondering who was crazier _ a patient who thought he was country singer Merle Haggard or a person who was paying $10,000 to eat with politicians.
"I still have great things to say about politics, but it also can have its toll on people," he said.
When asked if he'd ever run for Congress again, Hardy said he's not ruling it out.
But, then, Hardy pointed to Tom Eagleton, the Missouri Senator whose admission of psychiatric treatment for depression led to stepping down as the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1972.