A conquest for Jesse Jackson Jr. and An Opportunity to Address the Stigma of a Mental Illness

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Recently there were many press releases, revolving around the silence and absence of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. from his office.  Last week, the Mayo Clinic put those concerns to rest by announcing that the Congressman was indeed at their hospital and asked them to relay on his behalf that he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II.  Bipolar disorder I (or Manic-Depressive Disorder) is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one of more depressive episodes.  Bipolar Disorder II is less severe than a category I diagnosis (with periodic episodes of depression and hypomania) and is very treatable when recognized in early stages.

In 2004, Jesse Jackson Jr. underwent gastric bypass surgery, specifically a duodenal  switch. Many medical professionals are skeptical that it lead to the unmasking of this underlying psychiatric disorder. Through several debates, it was discussed by mental health professionals that even though the procedure changes how the body absorbs and alters anything that enters the human system (food, liquid, vitamins, etc.)it may not be the cause of a mental health disorder to develop although, the change in bodily appearance with rapid weight loss that takes place after the surgery could cause an individual to become depressed which could expose the underlying symptoms of the Bipolar disorder.

With at least one other fellow Congressman, Former Rhode Island U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, maybe the public recognition of this diagnosis with high profile individuals will help remove the stigma linked with mental health. In fact, bipolar disorder and fame have been linked both in the present and in the past. Dating all the way back to the production of one of history’s most unforgettable films ‘Gone With the Wind’,  Oscar winning star, Vivian Leigh (who played Scarlett O’Hara)was diagnosed with the disorder and it was said to be the contributing factor for ruining her career and marriage due to her hostile behavior in her mental break downs. Other well-known and high-profile figures throughout the ages to be diagnosed or thought to have been labeled with the diagnosis are: Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, television journalist Jane Pauley, Academy award-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, and even the possibility of legendary artist Vincent van Gogh.

Rather than looking at Jesse Jackson Jr.’s recent diagnosis as a disability, society should look upon the Congressman as an inspiring advocate to reduce the stigma of mental health.  Mood disorders are highly treatable when recognized at a timely manner, and with the proper treatment or direction by a professional these individuals can live a life of happiness and fulfillment and do great work.

Click here for a link to a CNN story on Depression

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