In recent weeks we have heard about Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s treatment for bi-polar disorder. Jackson has made his illness public, and spoken with confidence and relief that he has entered the Mayo Clinic, and will take his doctors' advice to follow through with treatment and rest. His constituents report that he will easily win reelection to his seat in Congress.
In 1972, George McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton to be the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic slate with him. Within three weeks McGovern's campaign had imploded in the backlash of questions about Eagleton's fitness for office. It was learned that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received electric shock therapy.
Is a candidate with mental illness that is managed with best currently available treatment less fit for office than a candidate with chronic heart disease? Before our obsession with societal norms, great men with mental illness lead great nations. Abraham Lincoln was probably one. Winston Churchill was certainly another. Churchill called his depression "Black Dog". Representative Jackson (who may not be qualified for other unrelated reasons) has demonstrated that in 2012, mental illness is not the political death sentence it was 40 years ago. Whatever else Jackson contributes to civil society during his years of public service, his forthright treatment of mental illness is huge.