Rep. Jackson's plight should serve as a lesson
Counting the cost
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has been away from Congress on medical leave for so long that his colleagues have been clamoring to know what’s wrong, and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that the Congressman was receiving treatment for addiction.
The truth, according the Rep. Jackson’s staff, is that the Congressman is being treated in a residential facility for exhaustion and mood disorders.
Why not say that in the first place? Because divulging one’s mental health status is often the kiss of death in politics and public life. It may be OK in Hollywood to speak exhaustion, mood swings, and other mental health issues. In that world, treatment is often followed by a late night talk show interview and a career revival.
In contrast, any politician who has come out of the closet about his or her mental health gets anything but a hard time.
Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), who had been elected to local, state, and national office since 1960, briefly joined the McGovern presidential ticket in 1972. When his medical records were leaked to McGovern, Eagleton was pushed from the Democratic ticket, because he had long-standing mental health problems. He checked into hospitals three times for physical and nervous exhaustion, was known to have suffered from depression, and reportedly received electroconvulsive therapy twice.
While his mental health history was not part of the public record, his hospitalizations led to speculation that he had a drinking problem. Still, he was so effective as a campaigner and politician that he unseated an incumbent Democrat in a race for the United States Senate.
When McGovern learned that Eagleton had taken the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine, and when his doctors spoke of his “manic depression,” the South Dakota senator initially supported Eagleton. However, when McGovern learned that Eagleton’s depression could return, he asked the senator to withdraw from the ticket, and Eagleton complied.
Even though 77 percent of the American people said Eagleton’s medical record would not affect their vote, Republican opposition was geared up to attack McGovern because of Eagleton’s mental health status, and the press showed their ignorance by rather cavalierly referring to Eagleton’s “shock therapy.”
Since men are far less likely to seek treatment for mental health issues than women, Sen. Eagleton showed amazing self-awareness to seek help. He perhaps did not reveal more, and sooner because he understood the public perceptions, and the potential negative consequences of being open about mental health.
Fast-forward 40 years to Rep. Jackson. Many would argue that we’ve come a long way on mental health awareness, but some would argue that point. Many health plans do not even bother to cover mental health, and if they do, it is covered for a limited number of sessions.
Having mental health problems is still enough of a stigma for some professionals to pay for the care out of their pocket rather than have their mental health treatment be a matter of record.
Comedians and others joke that when someone appears to behave erratically (or in some cases, extremely mindfully), they must be “off their meds.” The stigma remains, and it is stronger in the African American community than the majority community.
Tell an African American friend or colleague about feeling down for more than a week or so (two weeks of down moods is one sign of depression), and he or she will tell you to pray on it.
“God will help you through it,” they will say. But the Lord helps those who help themselves, and sometimes the help needed won’t be found on your knees. Or, the response to manic episodes is “Child, you so crazy;” as if that is a badge of honor, not a sign that help is needed. Every indicator we have of mental health utilization suggests that African Americans are less likely to seek help than their White counterparts, and while some of it may have to do with cost, some of it has to do with stigma.
As widely as postpartum depression is known and discussed, African American women are only half as likely to seek help as White women. Study after study reports the underutilization of mental health services among African Americans.
Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders than men are, which puts another burden on men. Indeed, African American men with mood disorders are more likely to rely on informal support systems, or to forgo treatment than they are to seek help. Thus, a 2011 study from the School of Social Work at Michigan State University concludes that there is an unmet need for mental health services among African American men.
It is as unfortunate that Rep. Jackson has been hospitalized for mood disorders as it would be if he were hospitalized for another illness. The fact that he has shared his mental health status may allow Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, to come out of the closet about mental health.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and author.
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No matter who wins the Nov. 6 election, he will have a mess on his hands.
Somehow, the body snatchers came last Wednesday and took the fire (as in fired up, ready to go) out of President Barack Obama, leaving a rather listless shell of a man who never truly engaged the audience.
He looked down at his notes, fidgeted, and let his opponent, Mitt Romney, get away with multiple lies.
In this 2012 election, most of the focus is on the top of the ticket. Can President Barack Obama maintain, or increase his lead over Republican nominee Mitt Romney?
Will “deep pockets” Romney prevaricate enough in his ubiquitous advertising to turn the tide?
Recent news suggests fundraising for Mr. Romney has faltered. That, too, is fodder for national news as the super-PACS decide how to spend their money. How will the debates go? What about those battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among others)?
When I was all of 16 years old, I went to get a passport. Why? Richard Nixon had been elected president, and I was sure that he would impose such oppression that I might need to get out of the country.
Never mind that I had not two quarters to rub together and was under such parental supervision that I might not have made it to the corner without being hit upside the head.
I used my own little baby-sitting money to obtain that passport, because I felt that our nation was changing.
When Beyoncé Knowles sang the Etta James song “At Last” at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the song could have had several meanings. At last, we have an African American president? At last, the muscle of the Black vote has been flexed? At last, there is some hope for our country to come together with the mantra “Yes We Can.”