You Decide 2022: State Senate candidate attacked for seeking treatment for depression

GROVE, Okla. — A debate between Republican candidates for an eastern Oklahoma State Senate seat raised eyebrows when one candidate attacked another for seeking professional help for the treatment of depression years ago.

During the Delaware County GOP’s candidate forum for State Senate District 4 last weekend, candidate Tom Woods said his opponent Hoguen Apperson was not ‘mentally competent’ enough to hold the office he was running for because he has previously sought professional treatment for depression.

“I hope his comments didn’t discourage anyone who is struggling from seeking help if they need it,” Apperson told FOX23. “We need to attack the stigma that surrounds mental health treatment. People need to know help is out there, and there is no shame is asking for it.”

The debate that was more than an hour long was between the four men hoping to get the Republican nomination to move on to the general election, but the public is focusing on the personal attack made 52-minutes into the forum.

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“Hoguen wants to talk about the sanctity of life in the womb, but what about the sanctity of life when it comes to suicide?” Woods said during the debate. “You’ve been to the mental ward twice. You’ve been to Grand Lake as of September 2019 and March of 2017. So how are you able to have the mental faculties to be able to take the stress that this job entails?”

Woods went on to say, “It’s not shaming. You’re not mentally competent to do the job.”

FOX23 News received a video statement from Woods and his campaign who said he was and is still raising valid concerns about Apperson not being ready to serve because he is still seeking on-going treatment for depression.

Woods called the deflection of the topic of his opponent’s mental state a distraction as an effort to try to not talk about a serious concern he said the public should have about his opponent.

Woods pointed to two family members with mental health issues, one who needs constant 24/7 around-the-clock care, and he said he is concerned Apperson would have a relapse while in office that would cause him to back into treatment and not be able to perform the duties of the job he is seeking.

“Nobody knows better than me the strain of mental illness and taking care of a loved one,” Woods told FOX23. “I sincerely hope Hoguen has gotten treatment to this day, but this is not a mental health issue. This is a question of his ability to serve the public today.”

Apperson said he believed someone may have violated his HIPPA rights by providing Woods with specific dates as to when he sought treatment at a local mental health facility, but he said the campaign for District 4 is about jobs and not personal attacks.

“We have seen all of the job growth for our area happen in Arkansas just across the state line,” Apperson said. “We need someone to fight for our economic growth. We are being left behind, and that’s what I want to focus on.”

Apperson said he is not ashamed of seeking treatment for depression, and he said it has improved his faith in God and given him hope for a long productive life. He and his wife are now expecting a child as well.

“It was a low blow,” he said. “I just hope it didn’t scare away anyone from getting help if they need help. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and it can be managed and overcome.”

State Representative Josh West (R) who represents part of the area that District 4 covers called the attacks unacceptable and said he too has struggled with his own mental health issues.

“That was an ignorant comment to say the least,” West stated on Facebook. “If seeking treatment for mental health was a disqualification for running for office or being elected, then I would be left out, along with dang near every Veteran or First Responder.”

West helped establish the mental health caucus at the State Capitol and applauded Apperson for how he responded. Apperson said he felt like cursing initially in his response and was visibly stunned by the remark, but he decided to turn it around into an encouraging message for anyone struggling at the time to seek help that is available.