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Experts: Bipolar Disorder Often Goes Undiagnosed In African-Americans

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Pamela Jones Pamela Jones
Pamela Jones serves as a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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(CBS) – Bipolar disorder has been blamed for much of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s downfall, and experts agree, in the African American community, it often goes undiagnosed. CBS 2′s Pamela Jones explains.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said he just couldn’t see mental illness in his son, Jesse Jackson Jr.

The former congressman is now preparing to serve prison time more than a year after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

It’s an illness marked by mood swings – phases of euphoria and often depression.

The younger Jackson spent six weeks last summer at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“He was the only African American person there which means that people who have it have no capacity to get diagnosis,” said Jesse Jackson Sr.

Advocacy group Mental Health America agrees, saying most African-Americans with bipolar disorder go undiagnosed and untreated.

“They’re not informed. They don’t know what the symptoms are,” said Keith Renfroe, licensed Clinical Pychotherapist.

Keith Renfroe counsels patients at his Inner Healing Institute in Hazel Crest.

He says African-Americans sometimes attach a stigma to mental illness – and seek emotional support from people who lack the proper training.

“Maybe they get a band-aid effect. But in bipolar, it’s going to come up again and again and again,” said Renfroe.

Dr. Robert Shulman practices psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.

He says the tendency to dismiss mental illness stretches across many cultures.

“Genuine psychiatric illness, especially bipolar disorder, is a genetic condition. There is circuitry dysfunction or malfunctioning,” said Dr. Shulman.

Keith Renfroe says many African-American males experiencing the manic or high phase of the illness may seem overly happy – or make poor decisions, behavior that can get them in trouble with the law which starts a downward spiral.

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