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Speaker Frank Chopp's Tearful Story Of Sister With Mental Illness

Frank Chopp, Washington Speaker of the House, in 2006.
Flickr Photo/The Children's Alliance (CC-BY-NC-ND)
Frank Chopp, Washington Speaker of the House, in 2006.

State Speaker of the House Frank Chopp’s path to politics began in Bremerton, Washington, in a surplus housing unit from the Navy Yard. He started as an activist and hasn’t abandoned that point of view.

“I consider myself still to be a community organizer, I just happen to be speaker of the House,” he said.

Meager beginnings made him passionate about affordable housing, and helping his sister cope with bipolar disorder turned his attention to mental health care.TRANSCRIPT

Frank Chopp: “Actually pretty much everybody I know has a personal connection to the issue.

“In the old days there used to be a stigma to talk about mental health … But rather remarkably over the last many years there's been a growing awareness of the issue, in large part because pretty much everybody can think of a friend or a relative or a member of the family who've suffered from mental health issues.

“So in my case, one of my sisters has had mental health challenges. And I'm going to get a little emotional here.

“My sister, she was a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, was a tremendous teacher, very energetic. She was a great teacher, working with students, doing all these wonderful projects.  

“Well the family only saw her in her manic phase for many years and so she then would have crushing depressions, which we didn't know about until finally we realized what was going on.

“And so luckily for her she was a teacher. She had disability insurance. She could rely on Social Security and also Medicare for special health care. She was helped by an extended family and the help of the public to get through that, and it was very trying on her and trying for the whole family.

“It was really amazing – the proudest moment of my service in the Legislature was sitting in the audience when my sister testified to the Senate health care committee in favor of mental health parity. And I was so proud of her, and we passed the bill.

“The reason I'm so emotional about this – it is not just my sister, it's thousands of people across the state who need somebody stand up for them.”