Kennedy Expounds on Mental Health Stigmas, Solutions

La Prensa

By: Christina Acosta

Former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) recently addressed the importance of mental health matters in the U.S. as the guest speaker at the Legacy of Hope Luncheon.

At the event, Kennedy reflected on his own challenges with mental health including alcoholism and bipolar disorder; and how with the right form of help, there are coping mechanisms to deal with mental illness.

The Legacy of Hope luncheon features the story of a high profile guest each year that has personal experiences with mental health issues; and proceeds from the event ​benefited the Ecumenical Center and its expanding therapy initiatives for patients of every age.

As a best-selling author, former Congressman, corporate leader and founder of two non-profit organizations, Kennedy has broken the family code of silence and decided to end the stigma that commonly surrounds individuals suffering from mental illness and addiction.

“Well first, recovery is possible and we should expect that it is possible to recover from these illnesses,” said Kennedy to La Prensa. “If we provide chronic care management for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma or anything else, we can treat mental illnesses not as acute episodes, but as manageable illnesses.”

During his 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he authored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008, requiring health insurance carriers to achieve coverage parity between Mental Health/Substance Use Disorders (MH/SUD), and medical/surgical benefits. They also apply especially in regard to financial requirements and treatment limitations.

Originally, the MHPAEA applied to group health plans and group health insurance coverage that was amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has jurisdiction over public sector group health plans, while the Departments of Labor and the Treasury have jurisdiction over private group health plans.

In 2013, Kennedy founded The Kennedy Forum to unite the mental health community by focusing on advancing the current ideas, policies and programming in behavioral health known to be effective. He also co-founded One Mind for Research, a leader in open science collaboration and research.

In 2015, Kennedy published “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.” He discusses his personal struggles and outlines a bold plan for the future of mental health policy. As a Kennedy, he not only used his last name as a privilege, but as an instrument to give it purpose.

“The key here is collaboration. The brain is one of the complex organs in the body and the only way for us to get a big picture of how it works is to get more data points,” continued Kennedy. “The beauty of being in Texas is obviously having a mission control for NASA, and we need to have big science data to incorporate what we are learning about the brain and various brain disorders. If we don’t, it is going to sink our country.”

In the United States, 6.9 percent of adults, or 16 million Americans, had at least one major depressive episode in the last year, while 1.1 percent of adults lived with schizophrenia and 2.6 percent of adults lived with bipolar disorder, stated the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An Analysis by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) of adult hospital admissions in Texas from 2006 to 2011 found 1,454, 097 hospitalizations to be potentially preventable, generating approximately $41.4 billion in total charges. During the same period, potentially preventable admissions in Bexar County hospitals exceeded 88,000 at approximately in charges.

According to One in Five Minds, one in five children in the U.S. suffer from mental health issues and every year in Bexar County, an estimated 1,300 children were admitted to the local ER for psychiatric reasons, often with no specialized care immediately available.

In an effort to cope with mental illness, The Ecumenical Center was awarded a $1.6 million state grant from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in May. The grant provides counseling services for active duty military, veterans and their families in San Antonio and Bexar County.

This fund provides post-traumatic stress therapies such as EMDR, neurofeedback, play and art therapy, psychological testing and sessions (utilizing the expressive therapeutic arts), visual arts, poetry and prose writing, therapeutic rhythms and music therapy for veterans, families and caregivers. The services branch out to nine Texas Veterans and Family Care Counseling Centers throughout San Antonio, Fair Oaks Ranch, La Vernia, Schertz and Corpus Christi.

“The grant will take place throughout this year, and we hope to continue with additional resources,” said Ecumenical Center CEO Mary Beth Fisk.

Since 1967, The Ecumenical Center for Education, Counseling and Health has been on a mission to offer people support for physical, emotional, ethical and spiritual well being. With the help of experienced professional mental health staff, the center offers counseling services for those experiencing anxiety, grief, PTSD and trauma. The center brings in medical, business, science and other professionals to build on their knowledge for helping others.

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