Jesse Jackson Jr. Psych Disorder Is a Political Issue We Should Worry About

Matthew Rozsa writes:

To what extent does the public have the right to know about the mental health of its politicians?

This is what we should be asking ourselves after the revelation that Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is receiving “intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder.” Although his doctor claims that Jackson is responding positively to his therapy, this hasn’t stopped Jackson’s family from asking the public to not seek too much information. As The Huffington Post puts it, “his wife has said little and Jackson’s civil rights leader father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., has called it a private issue and repeatedly declined to give details.”

As a mental health professional, I wonder whether Jackson’s staff would have been as secretive if he had another type of health problem or if the stigma of mental illness played into their decision to keep this quiet for so long. In any event, I agree with Rozsa’s statement:

In the end, if an elected official has an extreme mental condition that could compromise his performance, the people have a right to know about it.

I wouldn’t use the qualifier “extreme,” however. If an elected official has any health problem that is likely to compromise their ability to perform their elected duties for more than a week or two, their constituents and colleagues in Congress (who may also be relying on them) have a need to know. I don’t think they necessarily need to step down or resign – it depends on the situation and prognosis – but I think they need to let their constituents know how they will be represented while their elected official is unavailable or impaired.

Perhaps one of the most troubling cases in recent years – but not mentioned in Rozsa’s piece – involved President Reagan. Although some recognized he was having some memory problems while in office, no one actually knew that he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Had they known, what would they have done?

Read more of Razso’s commentary on Policymic while I wish Rep. Jackson good health and effective treatment.

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