Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state, has revealed an emotional moment in his kitchen that drove home for him the mental health challenges spurring his decision to put his political career on hold.
Kander, who surprised backers when he withdrew from the mayor’s race in Kansas City, Missouri, last October, told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview airing Thursday of the moment he knew he was experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his time serving in the military in Afghanistan.
“It was in the kitchen and me crying pretty uncontrollably and I wasn’t crying because I had to get out of the mayor’s race, it was just the realization that like, ‘Oh, I got wounded over there,’” Kander said.
Kander, 38, enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2003 and served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan a few years later.
“My job was to do anti-corruption and anti-espionage investigations within the Afghan government,” he told Holt. “I was in situations where I thought I might be about to be kidnapped or killed.”
For years after returning from service, Kander said, he was plagued by nightmares and would “patrol” his house on a nightly basis.
“I went almost 12 years without a good night’s sleep,” he said. “I’d get up in the middle of the night and I’d sort of patrol my house, because I was convinced someone was trying to break in.”
Kander said he began having suicidal thoughts and decided at that point to call the Veterans Administration hotline to seek help.
“I didn’t want to leave my wife and son alone,” he said.
After a four-year stint in the state Legislature, he was elected Missouri’s secretary of state in 2012 and in 2016 ran against Sen. Roy Blunt (R). He lost by less than three percentage points to the incumbent ― gaining national attention for his strong race as well as a viral ad that showed him putting together a rifle blindfolded.
I’m not doing this to make some kind of announcement. It’s not the beginning of some kind of comeback thing. Jason Kander
Discussed as a possible contender for the White House in 2020, he announced his mayoral bid last June. When he exited the race just a few months later, he said at the time he hoped his decision would encourage other people to seek help if they are experiencing mental health issues.
“I decided to be public for two reasons: First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, 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,” he wrote in a statement last year.
In the NBC interview, Kander said he wasn’t opening up about his personal challenges to position himself for any imminent political moves.
“I definitely am not going to run for anything in 2020,” he told Holt. “I’m not doing this to make some kind of announcement. It’s not the beginning of some kind of comeback thing. It’s really just I want other people to know that its worth it to get treatment because you’re going to feel a lot better.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.