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Politicians and Mental Illness

Mental Illness and the Spotlight

The world of politics is a complex place, and those involved carry the weight of the American people’s concerns on their shoulders. Such a career is difficult to manage when a politician’s own personal issues are not in order—especially when it comes to mental health. Just as non-political figures might, politicians struggle with mental illnesses, which, unfortunately, leads them into the spotlight for not-so-good reasons now and again. However, as this is unfortunate, there may be an upside to all this press regarding mental illness: change.

Mental IllnessMental Illness in Congress

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a severe mental illness that is characterized by poor judgment, reckless behavior, and lack of self-control. Jackson fit the diagnosis, as he was found to have misused $750,000 of his campaign money, spending it on alcohol, tobacco shop products, dry cleaning, and other luxury items.[1] Going untreated for his condition earned him a reputation as a non-hardworking congressman, a man who had taken part in extramarital affairs, and an arrogant and overzealous politician.1 Going untreated sadly ruined his career. He is now doing better, as he is undergoing treatment, yet is still facing sentencing due to his unfortunate mistakes.1

Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy suffered from bipolar disorder and alcoholism.[2] In May 2006, Kennedy, driving drunk, crashed into a RI  barricade at 2:45 A.M., insisting his was late for a vote.2 In 2011, Kennedy resigned from his position in order to get well, and now he is celebrating two years of sobriety. Since leaving Congress, his bipolar disorder is controlled and he married and has a new son.2 Still, overcoming his illness is a daily struggle.

Other politicians are familiar with the effects of mental illness on family members. Former U.S. senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has a daughter who suffers from schizophrenia and former senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore., lost his son to suicide, brought on by a deep depression.2

Lobbying for Mental Illness Policy Change

Fortunately, good is coming out of these unfortunate circumstances, as former politicians are lobbying for change regarding the policies for mental illness. In fact, Patrick Kennedy has begun a project called “One Mind for Research” which is a 10-year project that will focus on advanced treatment research for mental health and substance addiction.2 Scientists still do not know what causes these illnesses, but hopefully one day that will change and doctors will be able to control mental illnesses as they are able to control high blood pressure and other medical illnesses.2

There have also been some other nice adjustments. In 2008, Congress signed a bill ordering insurance companies to treat mental illnesses the same as other medical maladies, giving the insured mentally ill population a better chance at affording their treatment.2 According to Kennedy, educating the public on the issues of mental illness is also important for treatment purposes.2 Family is an important support system throughout the process, as Patrick Kennedy personally understands, and educating them will help the struggling family member recover faster and stay stable.

Still, there are many issues to be solved. Medications are wrongly used, as well as overused, and the new DSM’s loose standards could add tens of thousands of new psychiatric patients to the treatment market, likely many who are false-positive.2 However, while there is still a long way to go to control mental illness in America, it is now a regular subject that is in for many policy changes in the future.2


[1] New York Daily News. (2013, February 20). Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads guilty to misusing campaign funds, says ‘tell everybody in Chicago I know I let them down’ – NY Daily News. New York Daily News. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/jesse-jackson-jr-pleads-guilty-misusing-funds-letting-chicago-article-1.1269426

[2] Shultzke, E. (2013, February 17). Bipolar and addicted, Patrick Kennedy embodies mental health challenges | Deseret News. Deseret News. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765622849/Bipolar-and-addicted-Patrick-Kennedy-embodies-mental-health-challenges.html mental illness.

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