Sen. John Fetterman arrives at the Capitol on April 17, 2023, in Washington, DC.
Washington CNN  — 

Sen. John Fetterman, who returned to Congress this week after receiving treatment for clinical depression, is speaking out about how his tough Senate race last year worsened his mental health.

Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, shared with People magazine in an interview published Wednesday that criticism about whether he could serve effectively following his stroke was particularly painful.

“These kinds of personal things accelerated the depression,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in February. A statement released by his office at the time said the freshman senator had dealt with “depression off and on throughout his life” but “it only became severe in recent weeks.”

“I always treated my depression like I did with losing my hair,” Fetterman told People. “It’s just kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just part of my makeup.’”

He added that he never believed his depression “was significant enough to go get help,” which he now says he regrets not doing. But he described an October debate against his opponent Mehmet Oz as somewhat of a turning point – a day he says he’ll “never forget.”

“I knew going into this debate that millions of people were going to be watching,” Fetterman said. “And it wasn’t even just for Pennsylvanians watching, this would be kind of national … [it] would be living in history.”

Much of the attention heading into the debate was on Fetterman’s recovery following a stroke in May, just a few days before the Democratic primary, and how his struggle with auditory processing and speech could impact the debate. Throughout the night, he dropped words during answers and occasionally lost his train of thought, which fueled more criticism.

“I don’t have any regrets because I believe that I had a responsibility to do the debate, but after that point, to me, that was where the depression really started to set in,” Fetterman said.

His victory was “the moment of concern,” according to his wife, Gisele.

“After he won, you expect someone to be at their highest and really happy and celebratory,” Barreto Fetterman told People. “And after winning, he seemed to be at the lowest.”

Fetterman described that following the election, he had “stopped eating and drinking and I wasn’t functional.” At the time of his swearing-in ceremony, he added, “My depression was in full force.”

After a little over a month in office, Fetterman made the decision to seek treatment for his depression after talking to his family and team, and after six weeks of care, he was discharged from Walter Reed.

“When I first checked in, I never thought I would be where I’m at here,” Fetterman told the magazine, and described feeling “joyous” and “free of pain.”

Fetterman’s decision to seek treatment opened up a broader conversation on Capitol Hill about mental health and the senator is encouraging people to pay attention to their mental health.

“I want everyone to know that depression is treatable, and treatment works,” Fetterman said in a statement after his release. “This isn’t about politics — right now there are people who are suffering with depression in red counties and blue counties. If you need help, please get help.”