Patrick Kennedy opens up about mental illness and addiction

SEATTLE -- Since retiring from Congress, Patrick Kennedy has made it his life’s mission to remove the stigma of mental illness and addiction.  He has struggled for years with both, as have many members of his family.

“I’m not only a policymaker on mental health, but I’m also a patient,” said Kennedy, who was in Seattle on Thursday to give a speech to the Washington State Hospital Association.  He sat down for an exclusive interview with Q13 News.

A big part of Kennedy’s efforts is pushing for better enforcement of the Mental Health Parity Act, which he co-sponsored in 2008.  “There is clear discrimination by the insurance industry of people seeking care for mental illness and addiction,” he said.  “If this were cancer or AIDS or Zika virus, you would have a much bigger outcry than what we are hearing from the rest of America.”

Kennedy, who has been sober for over five years, said even someone in his position has trouble accessing the needed services.  “It’s easy to get pretty low in the current medical environment, where mental health and addiction care is stigmatized and treated as separate and unequal,” he said.

Kennedy’s struggles are detailed in his book, “A Common Struggle”, which recently came out in paperback.  Among the family secrets he shares is his own father’s alcoholism.  “My dad had suffered in unimaginable trauma in his life,” Kennedy said, “and what most people do if they’ve suffered that kind of trauma is they try to self-medicate, and my dad did that.”

Kennedy wants to make sure other families don’t suffer the same fate.  “We never talked about it, and he suffered in silence and I just don’t want that for my children,” he said.

Kennedy is devoting the rest of his life to this cause.  “I never thought to myself that the thing that I would be most ashamed of and wanted to talk about the least would be the thing that I talked about the most and be most proud of,” he said.