Jesse Jackson Jr. Mood Disorder and the Disappearing Stigma of Mental Health Disease

If Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Illinois) worked in Hollywood rather than the Capitol, he could have explained his prolonged absence from work as "exhaustion," the catch-all euphemism for a celebrity's substance abuse and mental health issues. But Rep. Jackson, Jr., the Illinois congressman and son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, was forced to name his illness after receiving pressure from Senator Dick Durbin, among others. 

The congressman's revelation of his hospitalization for a mood disorder provoked a surprising reaction -- unqualified support. As political bloggers have speculated and sensationalized Jackson's absence, they've missed a bigger story. In a Congress that has been hamstrung by hyper-partisanship, both sides of the aisle expressed hope for a quick recovery. According to Fox News, Republican Speaker said, "I just wish him well and hope to see him back soon."

The verbal support mirrors the bipartisanship that helped pass one of the most influential pieces of legislation on mental health. In the throes of the financial crisis, Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act as part of the bank bailout, a piece of legislation that Rep. Jackson, Jr. supported. The Act, named after Democrat Paul Wellstone and Republican Pete Domenici, removed the distinction between mental and physical health by requiring insurers to pay for treatment for both types of designated illnesses. 

Senator Pete Domenici described the disparity in treatment as "almost a civil rights issue." While time will tell whether Jackson, Jr.'s political woes (most notably, the allegation that he was consorting with everyone's favorite felon Rod Blagojevich) will cost him the election, it appears that his health issues will not be a Republican talking point. 

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Jillian McLaughlin

As a current student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, I study public policy, take advantage of student discounts, and spend way too much time playing Settlers of Catan.

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