Stress of Life in the Public Eye Might Have Fueled Jackson's Mood Disorder, Doctors Say

The congressman's office said he is being treated at an inpatient facility.

ByCARRIE GANN, ABC News Medical Unit
July 12, 2012, 2:52 PM

July 12, 2012— -- The medical condition keeping Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. out of Congress for the past month was finally revealed and not revealed at the same time: a mood disorder, a condition that can be anything from major depression to bipolar disorder.

Whatever his condition, doctors say the stresses of Jackson's life and career likely played a role in triggering this episode. His case also serves as a reminder that anyone can struggle with mental health.

The Illinois congressman's office Wednesday released a statement that Jackson is "receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder. He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery."

The statement also denied rumors that Jackson is being treated for alcohol or substance abuse.

Although a mood disorder can be many different things, the most common form is depression, and doctors say such a disorder has to be severe for a patient to be admitted to an inpatient treatment facility. Most people admitted are either suffering from delusions or are suicidal.

One senior aide to Jackson spoke to ABC News and denied that the congressman had attempted suicide. That rumor was floated on the Chicago WLS talk radio show Roe & Roeper, which reported that sources said Jackson's absence from Congress was the result of a suicide attempt.

Mood disorders are fairly common in the United States. Almost 7 percent of U.S. adults have depression in a given year, and almost 17 percent of Americans will experience it in their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.

The numbers are slightly lower for bipolar disorder: Nearly 4 percent of Americans will have it in their life. Mood disorders like these have a variety of physical and environmental triggers.

"Obviously, someone who is in the spotlight is living a stressful life," said Dr. Ken Robbins, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin who is not treating Jackson, as with the other experts in this story. "It may very well have something to do with what triggered his episode."

Besides the pressures of a high-stress job, times have been tough for Jackson lately. He became embroiled in the scandal surround President Obama's vacant Illinois Senate seat and dealt with allegations of an extramarital affair.

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, said the pressure alone from being in a family forever in the spotlight might have become too much for Jackson.

"Especially if you're a minister's family," Koenig said, referring to Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "There's this idea that you have to have this image, you have to be a kind of ideal that no one can live up to. Trying to achieve that becomes tough."

Randy Auerbach, a psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, said Jackson might also have a genetic predisposition that might make him more vulnerable to a mood disorder.

"An individual may have a certain vulnerability and in presence of stress, it may trigger the onset of a disorder," Auerbach said. "But significant life stress is enough to contribute to a depressive episode about 50 percent of the time."

Stress could be anything from diminished sleep, working too hard and unexpected life events, he added.

Whatever the source of Jackson's mood disorder, doctors say what's likely to make it worse for him is the stigma associated with the mental illness.

"It will be very difficult for a person like that to be honest and forthright about their condition," Robbins said. "People tend to see someone with these conditions as weak rather than realize that to deal with this and carry on requires a great deal of courage."

Jackson has been absent from Congress since June 8, and his absence went unexplained until June 25, when his office said he was suffering from exhaustion.

"That's what he has. He doesn't get a lot of sleep and he has sleep disorders. He's very energetic, running full-steam ahead, working six or seven days a week often and he's been doing that for a long time," a source close to Jackson told ABC earlier this week. "There's a great deal of pressure on him due to unfounded allegations [related to the ethics inquiry] and negative press onslaught against him that are not true, so it kind of all caught up to him. He needed downtime to get away from grind."

Jackson's office told ABC News today that the congressman has been in the treatment facility for a few weeks, but would not speculate on how long he will be there. Koenig said treatment typically lasts up to 10 weeks, at most.

Jackson is likely receiving a combination of psychotherapy and drugs for his condition, doctors say. And although treatment at a residential facility sounds fairly extreme, getting treatment is a very positive step.

"It often sounds like it's punitive, but it's not," Auerbach said. "It's an opportunity for people and treatment teams to put a plan in place that will optimize their success in the future."

There is no reason to suspect that Jackson will not be able to resume his duties when his treatment has concluded, doctors say.

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.

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