Kennedy Forum highlights need to solve mental health crisis
By Skye-Ali Johnson, Richard Wright School of Journalism and Media Arts
Feb. 11, 2020
“You don’t need seniority to make a difference,” said Patrick Kennedy, former Representative from Rhode Island and co-founder of the mental health-focused Kennedy Forum.
Kennedy’s voice boomed as he addressed a nearly overflowing crowd in the Senate Office Building caucus room that bears his family’s name.
He spoke from experience, as his book A Common Struggle details his long struggle with mental illness and now recovery from addiction. He is the son of the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and Joan Kennedy, who both saw their alcohol use widely covered in the media.
Kennedy said the only thing missing to solve the mental health crisis is the “political will.” Solutions won’t be effective unless the two parties work together, because mental health knows no socioeconomic or political lines.
His sentiment was underscored by other speakers at the event: Andy Slavitt, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration; former Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Oreg., who lost a son to suicide in 2003; and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., one of only two psychologists in Congress.
Consumer advocate Carmen B. told the audience about her failed attempts to get insurance companies to cover mental health treatment for her son who has struggled with depression.
“Is my son less worthy of life-saving care than someone with cancer or diabetes?”
The speakers also discussed how the solution needs to be fully integrated into the healthcare system, schools, communities and criminal justice system, as called for in the report “Healing the Nation” released this month by the nonprofit Well Being Trust, with input from Kennedy.
In an interview with the Urban Health Media Project, Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust, emphasized the importance of including young voices in the effort to solve the mental health crisis.
“We’re not building the system for us, so if you’re not at the table designing the system for you, we’ve made an egregious mistake,” he said. “Being a part of the conversation, making sure that every time you’re in a room like this you remind the folks that are of a different generation that you should be up here with us — I think that will turn heads in the long run.”