Should politicians and celebrities see it as their responsibility to share the specific details of their mental illness or mental disorder diagnosis in order to help reduce the prejudice surrounding these conditions?
That’s the question Torrie Bosch asks over at Slate and arrives at this conclusion — yes, it is a politician’s duty and responsibility to offer full disclosure about their mental health concerns.
But I think Bosch is missing a key component here. When in the throes of a full-blown episode (whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression, or something else), one shouldn’t be making any life-changing decisions or decisions that could forever alter one’s future career.
While it’s easy to believe that politicians and celebrities are something special, underneath their public persona beats the heart of an ordinary person — someone who is entitled to his or her privacy. Especially for health or family concerns.
So why is Torie Bosch arguing that the Jackson camp needed to be up-front with his concerns and talk about them since he went into inpatient treatment for them?
It would have served at least two purposes. First, it would have been another step toward removing the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. I also believe his constituents deserve to know.
Is it Jackson’s job to help remove the “stigma that still surrounds mental illness?” No, of course not. While it would be admirable for him to do so, it isn’t a requirement. It’s also not a requirement that “his constituents deserve to know” immediately when something happens.
Do constituents also “deserve to know” immediately when your elected politician suffers from a broken knee or has migraines? What about diabetes? And if not for those concerns, why would we single out mental illness from that list — seemingly only reinforcing the very prejudice and stigma one would want to remove.
And maybe, just maybe, he was more than happy to talk about his illness when he’s had actual time to get it treated and is in stable recovery from it. In other words, maybe he — like many others before him — just needs some time to himself. It’s hard to get better when you’re in the glare of the public spotlight and people are demanding explanations from you.
But when I said earlier that Bosch was missing a key component here, she actually got it, but stuck it way at the end of her article:
While mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, when a person is in an acute state, their judgment and job performance can be affected.
Well, if their judgment can be affected, isn’t it best to let the person get the treatment they need in private and give them some time to heal, before they start talking about it left and right?
It’s also illegal to discriminate against a person in a job because of their mental health diagnosis. So talking about a person’s “job performance” being affected is offensive — as though a person with a mental health concern can’t work, or can’t work just as effectively once they come back from a medical leave. (Again, I doubt Bosch would talk this way about someone who just had an appendix removed and needed a few weeks off of work to recover from surgery.)1
Sometimes there’s an unfortunate desire to hold politicians and celebrities up to some sort of model of behavior, forgetting they are just as flawed as you and I.
We all have our demons. Folks like Bosch should cut Jackson a break and give him time to recover. And also respect that if he wants to talk about his demons, that’s his choice — not his responsibility or duty.
Read the full article over at Slate: Jesse Jackson, Jr. should speak about his mental illness
- Hypothetically, if a Jackson spokesperson said, after Jackson had an appendix removed, “Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. just had an appendix removed and is spending a few weeks recovering from the surgery,” would the press still be demanding more information and details? No? So again we see the double-standard, where mental illness is discriminated against — even by the very same people saying they’re asking these questions to “reduce stigma.” What they’re doing is subtly reinforcing the discrimination and stigma by demanding more specific answers, more information, and more details — details that wouldn’t be asked for a medical procedure. [↩]