Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy speaks with reporter Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about obstacles that prevent individuals from accessing quality mental health care, stressing that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.”
As this month marks the beginning of enrollment for the insurance exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act and the 50th anniversary of President John Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act, APA spokesperson and former member of Congress Patrick Kennedy is taking steps to ensure that the case for providing adequate care for those with mental illness is being heard by Americans throughout the country.
In September, Kennedy, along with APA, led a two-day national media tour as part of the activities of National Suicide Prevention Month. The former Rhode Island congressional representative and son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is a senior strategic advisor to APA.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care,” said Kennedy on the MSNBC show “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” Kennedy explained that suicide was the second-leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2010 and that nearly 40,000 Americans are expected to take their lives this year alone. “This is inexcusable,” said Kennedy, emphasizing that the best way to prevent suicides “is to treat the underlying mental health issue.”
The tour launched September 4 with an interview that took place on the website of the Fiscal Times newspaper and continued across 23 television, radio, and digital outlets—including Boston’s WBZ News, among other—until noon the next day.
In addition to suicide prevention, Kennedy highlighted APA’s leadership role in fighting the stigma, laws, and general medical practices that prevent many Americans from receiving effective care for psychiatric conditions, including substance use disorders.
“Why is it that we don’t have screening for depression or addiction or anxiety like we do for high cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease,” he said via satellite on FOX 43 Morning News in Harrisburg, Pa. “We have to make sure that this [mental health] screening is a part of routine medical care.”
Having publicly discussed his own struggle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, Kennedy currently is a spokesperson for APA’s new media campaign “A Healthy Minds Minute”— a series of public-service announcements designed to reduce mental illness discrimination and encourage family and friends to help their loved ones get care.
“I’ve been in recovery for a few years now,” Kennedy told Seattle FOX news affiliate, KCPQ. “When I look back, I cannot believe how [sick] I was—but at the time I didn’t realize it. If it wasn’t for others helping me realize it, then I would not have gotten the treatment that I needed.”
Since “A Healthy Minds Minute” was first released in May, it has aired more than 3,000 times on more than 40 stations—reaching an audience of more than 50 million people. The second public-service announcement for “A Healthy Minds Minute” is set for release next month in honor of Veterans Day to support military families who are heavily impacted by suicide and mental illness.
Over the past five years, Kennedy has fought to convince the federal government to enact a final rule that would penalize insurance companies that violate the mental health parity law, which was passed in 2008. Kennedy explained to Andrea Mitchell that implementation of the law was “sidelined” in 2010 by the attention focused on the Affordable Care Act.
“Health care reform is a big win for us, because it eliminates the preexisting condition clause,” said Kennedy. He emphasized, however, that advocates must continue to push mental health care to the forefront of health care reform in the cause of eliminating discrimination faced by Americans with mental illness.
At press time Kennedy was scheduled to participate in a “Conversations” event with APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., at this month’s Institute on Psychiatric Services. ■