Mental health advocate and former congressman Patrick Kennedy, President Kennedy’s nephew, came to University of Connecticut Wednesday to explain why “Mental Health is Essential Health.”
Former Sen. Christopher Dodd, son of the namesake of the Dodd Center, introduced Kennedy as the leading advocate of mental health rights in our world today. He emphasized how mental health problems have affected, either directly or indirectly, every single person not only in the audience, but in the world, making it senseless that medical assistance for mental health is not a human right. Kennedy credited Dodd with the parental leave bill and other forms of policy that help assist U.S. residents.
“I really didn’t realize how much Patrick Kennedy put into our mental health care system within the United States,” Kempton Campbell, a first-semester human rights and political science double major, said. “The fact that he has done so much for us, it’s something I can really come to appreciate, that as he said, he’s never come across anyone who hasn’t dealt with someone who has mental health issues.”
Kennedy explained that things must be pretty bad if he is considered the champion of mental health and addiction. He demands a medical rights act that will prevent separate and unequal treatment for mental illnesses like opioid addiction and physical illnesses like diabetes.
So far, his mental health advocacy community has gotten rid of treatment caps and higher co-pays. Now their focus is on combating insurance companies who refuse to pay for treatment unless they meet certain qualifications. For instance, if someone wanted to commit suicide, an insurance company could deny them medical care on the basis that they didn’t yet have a concrete plan on how they’ll commit suicide. Kennedy’s website, “The Kennedy Forum,” runs his “Don’t Deny Me Campaign,” which helps people speak out against the illegal insurance denials often faced by those seeking treatment for mental health and addiction. His website espouses the need for a future where insurance covers all medical needs of the body and the brain.
Kennedy had struggled with drug addiction himself, after being prescribed Oxycontin for back pain as well as other addictive drugs, and had to face the exploitation of his rehabilitation story in the “National Enquirer” when he was running in his first Congress election. Kennedy explained he only learned to fight against his negative spirals of thinking through years of group meetings and other medical treatments. Recovery showed him that he was not alone, and that concept was crucial for him. To further express this, a sign-up sheet for an addiction recovery group on campus was placed just outside the Konover auditorium.
Because of his history with addiction, Kennedy was happy to be the first to sign his name on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Unfortunately, his fellow congressmen were more reluctant to put their names down on something with the words “addiction” and “mental” in the title. Christopher Dodd was able to get the bill passed by writing the incredibly important and necessary bank buyout of $700 billion from the 2008 recession into Kennedy’s bill. Without Dodd’s help, the bill never would have been passed, according to Kennedy.
Not only did Kennedy struggle with addiction when he was younger, but his entire family had quietly struggled with various degrees of mental health and addiction throughout his lifetime. He thought it was funny that his dad, who had spent his entire life hiding his alcoholism caused by seeing his brother murdered, publicly stood beside him when he finally got his mental health and addiction bill passed.
“Mental health is something that people like to suppress and not speak about out loud, and in order for it to be eliminated or to prevent it, the first thing you should do is talk about it,” Denise Brown, a first-semester biology major, said. “Make it known that it’s not something that is terrible, especially if it’s not biological; it’s something that you ended up having over time because of stress and stuff like that. So, basically, don’t be afraid to talk about issues like that.”
Currently, Kennedy is working on a movement online (mentalhealthforus.net) that is attempting to add mental health onto the political agendas of both Republicans and Democrats. He hopes this movement will be represented in the upcoming presidential campaigns, because, in his view, mental health and addiction treatment is a human right that should be demanded and expected from our government.
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.