Former second lady Tipper Gore creates awareness, answers for teens facing mental health challenges.
Tipper Gore learned early in life just how devastating depression could be. Raised largely by her grandmother, she watched her mother suffer from depression long before experts understood it. Tipper also knew that she, too, could possibly be at risk.
Even so, when she began suffering from depression, she didn’t recognize the signs.
“I knew to watch for it because of my mother, but it took friends coming to me and saying, ‘I think you might be depressed,’” says the former second lady. “I was like, is that what it is? Thank you!”
Her depression was triggered by the trauma of watching her son, Albert Gore III, being struck by a car. The 6-year-old recovered from the accident, but she remained traumatized. When she finally sought help through counseling and medication, she was able to overcome depression—and it gave her a new mission.
“You can’t pray your way out of it; you can’t pull yourself by the bootstraps. You have to realize it’s a health issue and take care of it.”
Giving Children a Voice
The same incident that launched her depression also became a catalyst for lasting change. After her son recovered from the accident, Tipper met a woman who asked about her Albert III’s condition.
“I told her that he was fine, and she said she was so glad I’d been able to get the support I needed,” Tipper recalls. The woman went on to explain that her 7-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with bipolar illness, and on top of struggling with the medical and insurance challenges, she didn’t feel supported by her friends and family because they weren’t sure how to approach her.
“I was struck by the inequity of that,” Tipper says.
She sprang into action, contacting people she knew in the field of mental health. That gathering became Tennessee Voices for Children, a coalition of individuals, agencies and organizations working together to promote mental health for children. During her time in the White House, she remained a mental health advocate and hosted the White House Conference on Mental Health in June 1999.
Called to Action
Since leaving the political spotlight, Tipper has lived a quiet, private life, but has remained involved with Tennessee Voices for Children. Last year, she increased her involvement in mental health awareness, making a $1 million donation to the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help expand its teen outreach program.
“They have a program called Ending the Silence, which provides mental health education for teens,” she explains. “I really wanted to help them expand it. Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens.”
She believes that by providing education to help friends and family members understand mental illness and identify warning signs, teens can receive the treatment and help they need.
Finding Her Happy Place
In recent years, Tipper has found ways to bring happiness into her life. A drummer since her youth—in high school, she was part of an all-girl band called The Wildcats—she continues to find enjoyment from banging on the skins in her free time.
Beyond that, she says, her friends and family are her greatest source of joy.
“I just mean talking to one of them during the day,” says the mother of four adult children. “It’s about making a connection.”