For Nadler challenger, the personal is the political

Lindsey Boylan opens up about her personal experience with mental illness.

Political hopeful Lindsey Boylan has a long list of areas where she wants to see reform.

The 35-year-old is one of six people challenging Congressman Jerrold Nadler in the Democratic Primary race to represent New York’s 10th Congressional District, which encompasses the parts of Morningside Heights, Upper West Side, the west side of Midtown, the west side of Lower Manhattan and parts of northern and central Brooklyn. 

Boylan, who formerly worked as the Deputy Secretary for Economic Development under Governor Andrew Cuomo, wants to tackle criminal justice reform, immigration, women’s rights issues, economic inequality, housing, climate change mitigation and health care — particularly mental health care. 

“This is a moment in time when we should be talking about mental health care as a human right,” said Boylan, explaining that personal experience, not political, is what makes her qualified.

When Boylan was 6 years old, her aunt came to live with her family in Carlsbad, California after she lost custody of her children. The move was meant to help her better handle her depression and problems with substance abuse, but one morning, as Boylan was watching “The Wizard of Oz,” her aunt entered the family garage and killed herself, she said.

“I blamed myself,” said Boylan. “I was the last person to see her.”

Boylan’s family was able to scrape together money to send her to therapy — an avenue she wishes everyone suffering from trauma, depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness could take.

“It’s the system that’s not working,” said Boylan. “It’s not working for therapists, it’s not working for people who need to talk to someone, it’s not working for kids.” 

According to one study, therapy sessions in New York can range from between $200 and $300. A 2014 study showed that only 55 percent of psychiatrists accept insurance. 

Her aunt’s suicide was not the last time Boylan would experience or witness battles with mental health. Her sister developed a substance abuse problem after her partner killed himself in front of her and eventually went to prison for DUIs, she said.

After Boylan gave birth to her daughter, she herself suffered from postpartum depression, which finally pushed her to speak openly about mental health. 

“I think that there is a unique opportunity for a woman who comes from a family that’s dealt with serious mental illness, to advocate and speak openly about it,” said Boylan, who in part was inspired to run by female legislators with personal connections to larger national issues, like Representative Lucy Kay McBath, who became gun reform advocate after her son was shot and killed in 2012, and Representative Lauren Underwood, who was a nurse before entering politics. 

“When women speak about their lived experiences, they are the most productive on moving the agenda.”

Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech