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Jesse Jackson, Jr. - Congressman and Activist

Acknowledged having bipolar disorder in mid-2012

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Updated March 16, 2013

Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Born on March 11, 1965, Jesse Jackson, Jr. had to find his famous father a tough act to follow. Jackson Senior was making headlines in the civil rights movement while his son was growing up. Young Jesse is said to have been close to his mother because of his father's frequent traveling.

As a child he was described as "a terrible little fellow" by one of his father's co-workers at PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity). Reportedly he was tested and found to be intelligent but hyperactive and aggressive, a condition perhaps exacerbated by the strict discipline of his parents' household, which he characterized as having "no freedom of speech."

He and his younger brother Jonathan were sent to the LeMans Military Academy where, his parents hoped, they would respond well to regimental discipline and have some distance between themselves and their father's public appearances. Jackson wrote later that at first he was frequently sent to the principal's office - "often to be paddled for conduct unbecoming a cadet." Eventually young Jackson went on to a prestigious prep school, St. Alban's. Sources conflict a bit on his performance there, saying, "he did better as a player on the school's football team than as a student" on one hand, and "he proved himself to be both a good student and a gifted athlete."

College Years Set the Standard

After high school graduation, Jackson went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, the same school his father had attended. At this age, it seems, he had indeed learned some self-discipline. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in business management in 1987, earned a master's degree in theology by 1990, and completed a law degree in 1993. He married his wife Sandra in 1991.

He became a popular public speaker, raised funds for his father's political campaigns, and became a director of the Rainbow Coalition, a civil rights organization his father had founded. Here he was an innovator and a tireless worker.

All this set the stage for his first political contest. He ran for the US Congress in 1995 to fill a vacated seat, winning by a wide margin in spite of being connected to some very questionable people and organizations. He has been re-elected in every subsequent election. At the time of this writing, his wife Sandi is a Chicago Alderman for the 7th Ward.

Trouble Arises

When Senator Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, there was considerable speculation about his successor as US Senator from Illinois, where such a position would be filled by appointment by the governor. Jackson spoke with then-governor Rod Blagojevich, as would only be natural for an ambitious and successful young Congressman. According to Jackson, "he only presented his credentials and polling information that suggested he could win re-election in 2010 [when Obama's term would have expired]." But the very next day Blagojevich was arrested for, and was later convicted of, trying to sell Obama's seat to the highest bidder.

Suspicion fell on Rep. Jackson, and though no proof has been uncovered that he had any part in Blagojevich's corrupt activities, and he has not been charged, he is still, as of this writing, under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Unfortunately for Jackson, in the investigative fallout came the discovery that he had had an affair. Reportedly he and his wife entered counseling as a result. Political analysts questioned whether this scandal could hurt his re-election chances in 2012.

Sudden Illness and Disappearance

On June 10, 2012, Jackson collapsed at home, and no word about his condition was forthcoming for two weeks, when it was announced by his office that he was on medical leave, citing exhaustion. In mid-July Jackson's office released this statement: "The Congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder," the statement said. "He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery."

During the month that followed, press statements spoke of his being at the Mayo Clinic "for extensive inpatient evaluation for depression and gastrointestinal issues." Sandi Jackson told a reporter that her husband has been "completely debilitated by depression." Finally, on August 13th, the Mayo Clinic issued a statement saying that Jackson was being treated for bipolar II depression. The gastrointestinal issues are said to be related to bariatric surgery called a duodenal switch in 2004.

Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s Life and Bipolar Disorder

It's possible that his childhood aggression and hyperactivity presaged the later onset of bipolar disorder, but this is only a theory. We can't know if there were any bipolar episodes prior to the 2012 illness, which was too severe to be kept secret. His intelligence, drive and charisma could be characteristics of bipolar disorder, but once again, there is no way to be certain. His father has those same characteristics. Bipolar hypomania may well have enhanced Rep. Jackson's ability to go after goals with such tenacity, and his personal appeal, but bipolar II depression is an extremely serious and sometimes disabling condition.

At this time, Jackson's office says he does plan to run for re-election and will be back on the campaign trail. Sandi Jackson told reporters doctors are working to find the right mix of medications to treat his condition, and that he is much improved.

Notable Quote: "When the doors of opportunity swing open, we must make sure that we are not too drunk or too indifferent to walk through."

Sources:
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. Biography.com. 2012.
Strumolo, Amy (original); Pendergast, Tom & Sara (updates). Jesse Jackson, Jr. - Contemporary Black Biography . Encyclopedia.com. 1997-2004.
Duke, Allen. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s life shaped by history. CNN.com. 11 July 2012.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. being treated for "mood disorder." WLSAM.com. 27 July 2012.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Mayo Clinic Press Release. 13 Aug 2012.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Medical Timeline. Chicago Sun-Times. 13 Aug 2012.
Ahern, MA, and Lutz, BJ. Jesse Jackson Jr. Being Treated at Mayo Clinic . NBC5 Chicago.com. 27 July 2012.

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