HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Dan Patrick, the front-runner in what has been a brutal GOP runoff for Texas Lieutenant Governor, spent time in psychiatric hospitals in the 1980s, according to court records released to ABC-13.
Patrick's campaign late Thursday confirmed he "sought medical attention to help him cope with mild depression and exhaustion." The campaign also accused Patrick's opponent in the runoff, incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of being behind the release of the records.
Dewhurst has hit a "new low," Patrick said, responding in a statement released late Friday.
The information about Patrick's medical past was unearthed in a 1989 deposition from when Patrick, a former Houston sportscaster and restaurant owner, was suing a columnist for the now-closed newspaper, the Houston Post.
Patrick told attorneys in the deposition that he started seeing a psychologist in the early 1980s because he was "tired, fatigued, stressed out."
ABC-13 also obtained records late Friday detailing Patrick's hospital stays that appear to indicate he suffered from "acute anxiety" had "major depression" and at one point needed "sitters around the clock."
One of those records is from a 1984 hospital stay shows a medical official's notes quoting Patrick as saying, "Last night I did a foolish thing. I attempted suicide."
"As I have said, I voluntarily entered the hospital twice in the 1980's for exhaustion and to seek treatment for depression," Patrick said in a statement late Friday. "Some of prescribed medications exacerbated my condition and created more serious problems. Through prayer and with the help of my family and physician, like millions of other American, I was able to defeat depression. I have not seen a doctor or taken any medication to treat depression in nearly 30 years...
"I am ready to serve."
In 1982 Patrick was admitted to a short stay in Memorial City Hospital for what he called "rest, fatigue, exhaustion," according to the deposition. He also said it was around this time that he started taking a common antidepressant medication.
In 1984, Patrick was admitted to Spring Shadows Glen, a substance abuse and psychiatric center. He said he didn't recall psychiatric treatment there. Instead, he testified that he "Slept, basically for two weeks."
Notes from that stay, though say that "The patient was admitted to Spring Shadows Glen after attempting suicide by overdosing and superficially slitting his wrist."
The Patrick camp also released late Thursday a clean bill of mental health from Dr. Stephen Kramer, the psychologist who treated Patrick.
Patrick "was a patient of mine in the mid-1980s," Kramer wrote in a 2011 letter. "He entered the hospital on a voluntary basis for the treatment of depression. The symptoms of depression decreased within a short period of time and he was discharged."
Patrick is a Tea-Party favorite and a current state senator. Dewhurst has been lieutenant governor since 2003. Patrick bested Dewhurst in a four-candidate GOP primary in March: Patrick captured 41 percent of the vote to Dewhurst's 28 percent.
The court documents about Patrick's mental health past were provided to a small group of Texas media by Jerry Patterson, Texas' land commissioner who was an unsuccessful GOP primary candidate for lieutenant governor and who now backs Dewhurst.
The Austin-based Texas Tribune reported Friday on an email some political reporters received from Patterson that suggested Dewhurst's campaign at least knew about Patterson's email dump to the media. Patterson denies coordinating with the Dewhurst campaign.
"Dewhurst has asked me to cease distribution of this information," said Patterson. "He also asked me not to run against him for Lt. Gov. I didn't really give a damn what David wanted then, and I don't give a damn now. The voters of Texas need to know."
Dewhurst's campaign responded late Friday with the following statement:
Patrick did not appear to believe Dewhurst's sincerity.
"The public response has been overwhelming," Patrick said. "Dewhurst has been roundly criticized from all corners. On the other hand, I have received a flood of new support and encouragement - much from those Texans who have suffered from depression or had it touch their families or loved ones.
"Dewhurst started the day denying any involvement in the release of my medical records. His hapless surrogate, Jerry Patterson, removed all doubt in an afternoon email misfire where he clearly stated that it was Dewhurst's idea. Dewhurst now tries to deny any connection to Patterson while just days ago his campaign produced a video of Patterson cleaning his guns and defaming me.
The leak also comes on the cusp of early voting for the runoff. Early voting begins May 19. Runoff Election Day is May 27.
Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist, said the attack on Patrick my backfire.
"If anything, it's likely to generate sympathy for someone who generally doesn't elicit a lot of sympathy from voters," Jones said. "Dan Patrick is seen as something of a hard, sometimes less than straightforward guy... now you're effectively making him a sympathetic figure."
Dr. Richard Pesikoff with the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Psychology said that while much of the stigma of mental illness and depression has been erased in recent years, it still is a confusing issue to many.
"The whole issue of mental illness is in a dark corner for some segments of the population," he said.
Pesikoff also said that mental illness has a particular blemish for some when it comes to politics. He recalled Thomas Eagleton who, in 1972, was briefly George McGovern's vice-presidential pick. He was asked to withdraw by the McGovern campaign after it was revealed that Eagleton was hospitalized three times for physical and nervous exhaustion.
"Eagleton got a really bad reception when he talked about his psych treatment," Pesikoff said.
Pesikoff also pointed out that many in the U.S. and Texas have suffered from depression or mental illness.
Indeed, a 2012 National Institute of Mental Health survey shows that 18.6 percent of the country's population has suffered from some sort of mental illness.
Political scientist Jones thinks that this latest bombshell may be a dud, like some others from the Dewhurst camp.
"David Dewhurst seems to be stuck in the eighties," Jones said. "Every attack ad is focused on 'Dan Patrick didn't pay his taxes in the eighties,' 'Dan Patrick hired undocumented immigrants in the eighties,' 'Dan Patrick went into bankruptcy in the eighties,' 'Dan Patrick had a mental health crises in the eighties.'
"Well, it's 2014. That was like 30 years ago."
Producer: Trent Seibert