The 411 on Bipolar Disorder

The 411 on Bipolar Disorder

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s mental health issues remind us that these types of disorders are not just white people’s problems — they are our problems, too.

Published August 15, 2012

While it’s been assumed that Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been suffering from a mood disorder, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, confirmed that they were treating the Democratic politician for Illinois for bipolar disorder.


According to, Jackson’s version of the disease is referred to as bipolar II, and is less severe. They reported:


Bipolar II is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is likely caused “by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors,” the clinic said. The statement also mentioned that Jackson underwent weight loss surgery in 2004 and said such a surgery can change how the body absorbs foods and medications, among other things.


Jackson’s mental health issues remind us that these types of disorders are not just white people’s problems — they are our problems, too.


Bipolar disease, which is also referred to as manic-depressive illness, is when a person has severe mood swings that go from feeling super high (mania) to feeling super low (depression). According to Mental Health America (MHA), while the rate of this mood disorder is the same for African-Americans as it is for other Americans of different races and ethnicities, Black people are less likely to be diagnosed and receive treatment for it. 


Why is this the case?


The MHA believes the following reasons help worsen the mental health treatment disparity:


— A mistrust of health professionals, based on tragic events such as the Tuskegee syphilis study.


— Cultural barriers between many doctors and their patients.


— Reliance on family and religious community, rather than mental health professionals, during times of emotional distress.


— A tendency to talk about physical problems rather than discuss mental symptoms, or to mask symptoms with substance abuse or other medical conditions.


— Socioeconomic factors which can limit access to medical and mental health care. About 25 percent of African Americans do not have health insurance.


— Continued misunderstanding and stigma about mental illness.


Mental health experts believe that perhaps that genetics, drug and alcohol abuse and brain chemistry might be reasons behind it, but it’s not 100 percent certain why certain people suffer from this disease and others do not.


There is good news though: Bipolar disorder is treatable. With the help of therapy, medicine and family and friend support, it’s possible to live a balanced life.


Learn more about bipolar disorder and other mental health issues here.



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(Photo: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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