Today, I read the article “Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Absence Tests Patience of Chicago Voters” on the Grio website. According to the article, some of Jackson’s constituents are concerned about whether he will remain in office if re-elected.
What I find amazing is that the article doesn’t state that Rep. Jackson has the right to take medical leave under the The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for his “severe depression and gastrointestinal problems.” According to the Department of Labor website, “FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons.”
12 workweeks would be about 3 months of unpaid time and then Rep. Jackson would also be able to use his vacation and/or sick time to cover any other time needed. Rep. Jackson’s Republican opponent, Brian Woodworth, must be completely uninformed on this federal law or be having a convenient brain fart because he asks:
You ask anyone in this district, which one of them could take 90 days off of work?…For the last three months, almost four, he’s ignored [voters]. He’s hidden from the press. He’s ignored the people. He’s neglected his job.
Well, FMLA does allow him to take 60 days off unpaid to seek treatment for issues that may make it difficult to perform his duties; and he is seeking this help so that he may perform his duties for his constituents!
If he had cancer or a stroke, no one would be discussing Rep. Jackson’s leave of absence. But because there is a mental health aspect to his situation, the public, his opponent, and the media are being awfully stingy with compassion or empathy. And this lack of compassion or empathy is odd considering that according to the National Institute of Mental Health:
- Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.
- Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.1, 2
Secondly, Rep. Jackson would have been more forthcoming with information on the issues he’s facing if there wasn’t a persistent stigma associated with mental illness or more accurately chemical brain imbalances. Especially as a person of color and a man, he could have controlled the dialogue on his depression by treating it like he wasn’t embarrassed, yet he didn’t. He could have been a positive example for two groups that are less likely to seek mental health treatment.
When Mike Wallace shared his struggles with depression, he enabled other Americans to say, “I think I have a problem, but I can get help, too.” What Wallace did was invaluable to men and women who may have struggled on for years and not sought help, but seeing someone you trust and admire admit that they have suffered gives people courage to seek help.
In the future, I hope fewer public figures will hide their mental health struggles, but share these struggles and a message to seek help; especially since most people can overcome their chemical imbalances and symptoms.