May 2, 2013

Speaking at Cornell, Patrick Kennedy Stresses Importance of Mental Health

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Speaking Thursday at Cornell, Patrick Kennedy — former Congressman of Rhodes Island and a mental health care reformist — addressed the stigma and treatment of mental illnesses.

During his term, Kennedy, the son of late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), authored the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 — a bill that requires health care plans to provide treatment for mental illness comparable to what they provide for physical illness.

Addressing students, Kennedy spoke of the importance of the bill in the U.S. today.

“The bill says that the brain is part of the body,” Kennedy said. “The bill says that you have to treat it like any other illness. Today, we don’t treat mental illness; we wait until it becomes a crisis.”

Kennedy compared the treatment of mental illness to the treatment of a degrading physical illness, saying that the mental illness treatment is so delayed, it is comparable to “waiting until you have stage-4 cancer –– 30 days from dying, you introduce chemotherapy.”

“We all know that this is a pressing health care issue,” Kennedy said. “Mental health is a chronic disease that need to be looked at in the same way as diabetes or cancer.”

Kennedy said mental health is not a “character issue; it’s a chemical issue.”

“It’s not about bad people needing to get good, it’s about ill people trying to get well,” Kennedy said.

According to Kennedy, the state of mental illness is currently at an “epidemic” level, but no one wants to directly address it.

“Nearly 38,000 Americans take their lives every year — that’s twice the number of people who are murdered,” Kennedy said. “Whenever someone is murdered, you hear about it, but when someone commits suicide, it’s hush-hush. We have more of our military [personnel] who take their own lives than die in combat.”

Mental health care reform needs to address both the stigma surrounding the disease and implement preventative measures, according to Kennedy.

“Not only am I the the sponsor of mental health bill, but I’m also a consumer of mental health services,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been hospitalized many times in my life for bipolar disease and addiction, but never got any health care after I left the hospital. I wasn’t able to sustain recovery.”

Today, according to Kennedy, health care now includes the primary care and secondary care systems necessary for treating diseases, physical or otherwise.

“I hope that my children will grow up in a world in which mental health is not stigmatized. This will only happen when mental health is integrated into physical health.  When I go to the doctor, I get a check-up, neck up.”

The future of mental health lies within neuroscience, according to Kennedy, who co-founded One Mind for Research, a nonprofit organization which attempts to eliminate stigma, transform policy and allocate resources for brain disease research.

“The brain is the last medical frontier,” Kennedy said.  “It’s the most exciting exploration of our generation.  We have the tools to explore the mind like never before ─ instead of going to outer space, we need to go to inner space.”

Kennedy said that mental health will touch everyone to some degree. He added that, when issues with mental health touch society, everyone will want the “system of care to address this issue the same way it does leukemia.”

“It may not be your mother or father with Alzheimer’s now, but they may have it in 10 years,” Kennedy said.  “It may not be your brother or sister now, but it may be their children down the road.”

Ultimately, mental health is a “force multiplier,” Kennedy said.

“We completely disregard our mental health in this country,” Kennedy said. “It’s our key to unlocking our potential. It’s the key to everything.”

Original Author: Emma Jesch