September 10, 2012
After spending several months receiving psychiatric treatment at the private Mayo Clinic, Jesse Jackson, Jr., a member of the US House of Representatives from Chicago, and son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, is now back at home in Washington, D.C. with his family. Close aids are giving no time frame for when Jackson will be able to return to Congress, which resumes work September 10 after its annual summer recess. But what is finally being disclosed is that Jackson, who went on a medical leave in June, citing exhaustion, is being treated for bipolar II disorder.
Bipolar II disorder is a mood disorder characterized by swings between depressive episodes and periods of elevated mood or mania, though swings between these two “emotional poles” are generally milder and not as pronounced as symptoms typically associated with classic bipolar disorder (also called bipolar I disorder or manic depression).
Bipolar disease affects more than two million Americans, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of mental illness in the US. Though it remains unclear whether Jackson was aware he was experiencing symptoms of bipolar when he first entered treatment, or truly believed his mood was the result of exhaustion, some are saying that Jackson, as a public figure, missed the opportunity to take a stand against the stigmatization of mental illness by staying silent for so long.
As Starita Smith, Ph.D., award-winning journalist and sociology professor at the University of North Texas, writes for the Progressive Media Project blog, “Now that he is suffering, he deserves our support and understanding. But I wish he and his staff and his family had been more forthright from the start about his illness. Instead, they were vague and secretive, which signaled they were aware of the still-powerful stigma of mental illness. We need to put that stigma behind us.”
While in treatment, Jackson received a visit from another high-profile politician and former member of Congress, Patrick Kennedy, who has long discussed his own struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction issues. A son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy now is an advocate on mental health issues.
As of early September, Jackson is leading in the polls for his re-election bid for the Congress in November. But what about his treatment for bipolar disorder? Are public figures, especially politicians, obligated to speak publicly about their psychological issues because it might help to reduce stigma — or should this topic be private and off-limits?