Former U.S. Sen. says treat mental illness like all other illnesses
By MIKE COOK
Las Cruces Bulletin
As a long-time advocate for people who suffer from mental illness, former U.S. Sen.
Pete Domenici, R-N.M., helped to “make life a little bit easier for those who are on the margins of life, particularly those suffering from brain illness,” said former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 15, as he closed the Domenici Conference.
By hosting a policy forum focused on mental health issues, Kennedy said, Domenici is “bringing the national stage back here to his home.”
Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. Sen.
Edward Kennedy, DMassachusetts, called the Mental Health Act of 2008 which Sens.
Domenici and Kennedy (after the death of original co-sponsor Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota) co-sponsored, a “modern- day medical civil rights bill.”
The bill was co-sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Patrick Kennedy and James Ramstad, RMinnesota. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
“Not only was it a policy issue, it was a personal issue,” Kennedy said, who said his mother was an alcoholic and suffered from a mood disorder. His grandmother died as a result of alcoholism, and his father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after “watching his brothers violently murdered, not just once, but twice.
When I grew up, there were bullet-proof vests in every closet,” he said. Edward Kennedy also
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy spoke Thursday Sept. 15 to close the Domenici Conference.
PHOTO BY MIKE COOK
“self-medicated with alcohol,” Patrick Kennedy said.
“But we never talked about it,” he said. “We kind of kept our heads down and never looked up. We didn’t know what to do.”
Kennedy said he “succumbed to the same disease” because, both “genetically and environmentally, it ran in my family.”
And, there were no screenings for mental illness during his doctor visits as a child, he said, noting that he first entered treatment at age 17.
“Too many of our fellow Americans are dying because we fail to treat this illness like any other illness,” he said. “Our life expectancy is on its way down for one single reason,” Kennedy said — the increasing number of suicides nationwide. And, the 41,000 drug overdoses that occur every year in the United States are additional “successfully completed suicides,” he said.
It’s a “public health epidemic (for) in- or outpatients and in or out of the system,” Kennedy said. The result is millions “sleeping on the street, languishing in our jails.”
“No one should be incarcerated without treatment if they are mentally ill,” he said. That constitutes a violation of his or her civil rights and is cruel and unusual punishment.
Early intervention is crucial to dealing with mental illness, Kennedy said. “We have to intervene right away.”
“Our current health system is illiterate when it comes to mental health,” he said. And the fault lies not just with insurers, Kennedy said. “Providers are not being responsible for the delivery of evidence-based medicine. The services you provide need to be up to par.”
“Let us … become stewards of mental health,” Kennedy said, so that it is considered part of the American health care system and “not separate and unequal.”
Kennedy said he hopes his four children “grow up and don’t know the difference between health care and mental health care because they’re the same.”
‘Too many of our fellow Americans are dying because we fail to treat this illness like any other illness.’
FORMER U.S. REP. PATRICK KENNEDY, D-RHODE ISLAND