Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official for one of the largest counties in the United States, announced Monday she is taking a leave of absence to receive treatment for clinical depression.
Hidalgo, a 32-year-old Democrat from Colombia who was re-elected to a second four-year term last November, said in a news release that she would be away for the "next several weeks" while receiving inpatient care at a facility outside of Texas. Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a fellow Democrat, will preside over county commissioners court and other official proceedings during her absence, according to Hidalgo, who said she will remain in communication with county staff and be available in the event of an emergency.
“It is important for me personally and professionally to confront this issue swiftly, so I will be taking temporary leave from the office while I am receiving treatment,” Hidalgo wrote in a letter to constituents that was released by her office. “My medical care team and I are hopeful that I will be able to resume my normal schedule by early September. I remain passionate about Harris County and its people and look forward to returning at full strength.”
In 2018, when she beat incumbent Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Hidalgo became the first woman and first Latina elected to the office. She won re-election last November in a race against Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who subsequently joined a group of Harris County Republicans who are challenging their election losses in court.
Hidalgo took a leave of absence in January to visit her ailing grandfather in her native Colombia, according to an announcement at the time by her office.
Her announcement Monday drew expressions of support and understanding from local elected officials such as Ellis and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said in a statement that he hoped Hidalgo’s experience “can serve as a teachable moment and encourage others who need support to seek it.” Hidalgo echoed that sentiment in her letter to county residents, in which she provided a link to mental health resources available through the county’s health department.
“I want to commend her for making the decision to get the hep that she needs,” Ellis said. “And I want to commend her for going public with it. A lot of people would not.”
Below is the letter Hidalgo wrote to residents of Harris County, which includes Houston:
Dear People of Harris County:
I am writing to share with you that I am one of the over 21 million American adults that is suffering from clinical depression. For some time, I have been coping with this challenge, and it was undiagnosed until last month. Based on my doctor's recommendation, I checked myself into an out of state facility to receive inpatient treatment in late July. It is important for me personally and professionally to confront this issue swiftly, so I will be taking temporary leave from the office while I am receiving treatment. My medical care team and I are hopeful that I will be able to resume my normal schedule by early September. I remain passionate about Harris County and its people and look forward to returning at full strength.
From the beginning of my tenure as County Judge, I have stressed the importance of mental health services. Depression and other mental health illnesses are part of the human condition, and mental health illnesses should be treated just like any other health condition. I feel so strongly that we should be open and forthright about mental health issues, which historically have been tarred with stigma that have prevented people from seeking the treatment they need.
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. All of us know someone – a friend, a coworker, or a family member – who suffers from depression. I encourage every person that is struggling with mental health challenges to look for support in your community, your loved ones, and your doctor. If you need help finding support in Harris County, the Department of Public Health maintains a list of mental health resources that residents can find at: publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/Mental-Health-Resources, or you can call 9-8-8. Remember to prioritize your own health and that you are not alone.
I will remain available in the event of an emergency, and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management remains fully engaged and prepared to respond to any potential incident or disaster during this time, and I will continue to remain available to staff. Since Commissioners Court rules indicate that the senior (longest standing) member of the court shall preside in my absence, Commissioner Rodney Ellis has graciously agreed to preside over Commissioners Court in my absence. Additionally, my chief of staff will continue to manage the day-to-day operations in my office.
I am grateful for your understanding, as well as the support of my colleagues, friends, and family. I hope to share more about my experience upon my return.
Harris County Judge