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'I am grateful' | Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo gives update on her leave of absence

Last month, Hidalgo checked herself into an inpatient facility to be treated for clinical depression.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo provided an update Thursday morning on her mental health treatment, saying she would be returning to work soon.

It's been more than a month since Hidalgo took a leave of absence to be treated for clinical depression. Now, the county judge said she will be discharged on Saturday, Sept. 16, to transition from residential care to outpatient care.

Hidalgo will then return to work on Oct. 2. However, the judge said in a press release that she continues to remain in communication with key county staff and is available to discharge her duties as county judge.

The county judge released the following message for Harris County residents:

"Thank you to my colleagues, family, and the Harris County community for the outpouring of support that I received after I announced I was seeking inpatient mental health treatment for depression. I have been deeply touched by all the messages that I have received, not only from Harris County residents but from across the country. So many people wrote to me to share their own struggles with mental health and their support for my decision to be public about my journey. I am encouraged that so many in our community agree that treatment for mental illness should be normalized just as seeking treatment (for) any illness is accepted and expected.

"After my time in a fantastic inpatient facility, I am feeling a lot better. I am looking forward to being discharged this Saturday, September 16, 2023, starting outpatient care, and re-acclimatizing to life outside a mental health facility. My initial treatment plan had me returning to my regular schedule in September, but my discharge date was moved back, which moves back the re-acclimatization period. The way my doctors explained re-acclimatization to me is that you would not go from heart surgery straight to running a marathon, in the same way that they do not want me to go straight back to my usual schedule.

"I am feeling great and looking forward to returning on Monday, October 2, 2023. Thanks to the incredible medical team that has cared for me over the past several weeks, I feel so much stronger than I have ever been.

"I continue to maintain lines of communication with my staff and the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management remains fully prepared to respond to any potential incident, as well as request my presence if necessary.

"I am grateful for your continued support. I look forward to sharing more about my experience, and most of all, I am eager to return to the community and the job that I love."

At the time she announced her leave of absence, Hidalgo, 32, released a statement saying that she had checked into an inpatient facility and planned to return in early September. She said she was diagnosed with clinical depression in July. Later that month, she said she checked herself into an out-of-state facility for inpatient treatment.

Commissioners are set to vote on the county budget at next week's meeting.

"I am one of the over 21 million American adults that is suffering from clinical depression," Hidalgo said in a statement during the first week of August. "My experience has been difficult, but I am taking it as an opportunity to be open about my own struggle, my own challenges, and to encourage others, who need help, to seek treatment."

While Hidalgo has been gone, Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been presiding over Commissioners Court.

At the time of the announcement, Ellis wouldn't say exactly where Hidalgo was being treated, due to privacy concerns, but he said he believed she would be gone for about two weeks. He said it was important for her to get treatment to confront the issue swiftly.

Hidalgo has held the county judge position since winning the 2018 election over incumbent Ed Emmett.

After Hidalgo announced she would be returning to work next month, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released the following statement in support of her getting the help she needs.

“Sometimes, the act of simply asking for help can be the hardest part along the road of healing. I applauded Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo when she spoke openly about her need for treatment for depression, and I look forward to welcoming her back in October when she returns to her duties.

"Overwhelmingly, I’ve seen supportive statements for her announcement from across the political spectrum. Given the wide swath of Houston families who have dealt with health issues – including mine – having leaders be open and honest about health needs has been a great example. Asking for help isn’t a weakness, and it shows great strength and self-awareness.

"Regrettably, some have chosen this medical issue as a reason to continue their political games. To those who have chosen that route and those who have chosen to publish and amplify that gamesmanship, you have shown us who you are. Mental health is a serious issue that demands your respect. I stand with Judge Hidalgo and hope those who have sought to gain from her illness reflect on what that says about them. 

"Leaders understand that public statements on issues echo widely in the public – especially in stigmatizing matters like getting access to mental health treatment. Listen to the sound of your own voice and decide if you are leading, on simply throwing stones.”

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