Patrick Kennedy Describes Struggles with Depression

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The stigmas of depression and addiction are rarely spoken about in this country, even though one in five U.S. adults struggle with mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The stigmas of depression and addiction are rarely spoken about in this country, even though one in five U.S. adults struggle with mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In addition, more than 41,000 people commit suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More Americans now die from suicide than car accidents.
One man who knows firsthand about this is former Rep. Patrick Kennedy. The youngest child of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy is now leading a political movement to change the way people view and talk about mental illnesses and addiction.
Kennedy, who suffers from bipolar disorder and is a recovering alcoholic, spoke to 300 people on April 12 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City about his book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, which details his personal struggles.
“When you have these illnesses, you do a lot of things you are ashamed of,” Kennedy said. “And you don’t feel you can let anyone in because if they really knew who you were, they would not love you and accept you.”
Now five years sober, he reminisced about one of his lowest points.
In 2009, he crashed his Ford Mustang convertible into a U.S. Capitol police barrier while under the influence of prescription sleep medication. The next morning, he waited for the dreaded call from the police telling him he had killed someone.
Eventually, his chief of staff told him there was a problem. The police generously parked his car in the Congress parking lot, but word spread to the media about the incident.
His father wanted him to brush it under the table.
“I saw a picture of the car, and I don’t know why they are making such a big deal about this,” Ted Kennedy said to his son. “It looked to me like nothing but a fender bender.”
“I wanted him to understand that I was sick,” Kennedy told the attendees.
He decided he had enough of living a lie. He told the public he has mental health issues and began to get help. Unfortunately, his dad never understood his medical condition, he said.
Twenty or 30 years ago, mental illnesses and addiction were not discussed, especially in the Kennedy household. According to Kennedy, his father suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and his mom was an alcoholic.
“If you have these illnesses, what you do is isolate and basically burn every bridge behind you,” he said. “The issue of not talking openly about these things is hardly a Kennedy issue.”
He recalled many days when his intoxicated mother would walk aimlessly around the house in a bathrobe, and no one did anything to help her. Today, he wishes someone did.
Kennedy also helped pass the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA or Parity Act).
The act requires health insurance carriers to achieve coverage parity between mental health/substance use disorders and medical/surgical benefits, especially in regard to financial requirements and treatment limitations.
“When you see a doctor, they ought to be screening for depression and addiction,” he said.
Speaking to the Jewish Exponent, he said it is imperative for the youth of today not to turn to drugs.
“We want to be strong, and it weakens our ability to tackle life’s problems if we rely on drugs and alcohol to help us solve them,” he said.
Among the attendees at the event was Marge Thorell of Fitler Square. Thorell, who is 33 years sober, attends a group at Rodeph Shalom for parents of addicts. With a son who is an addict and another child in recovery, Kennedy’s message hit home.
“I think it’s very moving and very important what he’s doing,” she said.  “This would never have happened 30 years ago.”
And efforts are underway nationally to increase depression screenings.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced on Jan. 26 that primary care doctors should screen all adults for depression.
Created in 1984, the task force is a panel of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine that makes recommendations about clinical preventive services such as screenings, counseling services and preventive medications. It’s funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Medical professionals in the Philadelphia Jewish community spoke to the Jewish Exponent about depression.
Dr. Elana Goldmintz-Gotfried, the clinical director at Advanced Health and Education, an adult addiction treatment center in Center City, agrees with the recommendation for annual screenings.
Diagnosing the disease at an earlier age will allow people to live normal lives and feel better about themselves, she said.
“Any increased focus on prevention of mental health disorders is a good thing, especially for one as common and as prevalent as depression,” Goldmintz-Gotfried said.
She said primary care physicians would need to be trained on the signs of depression. Symptoms include oversleeping, not sleeping, overeating, not eating, irritability, loss of interest in hobbies and frequent sad or pessimistic moods.
Research also shows that the number of depressive episodes one has may predict the likelihood of having another one, while those with a family member who also has a mood disorder are at higher risk of developing one themselves.
“So if we … are able to identify someone who is in a current depressive episode and intervene earlier rather than waiting until they have multiple episodes, we are potentially changing peoples’ quality of living over a lifetime,” Goldmintz-Gotfried said.
She also supports screening individuals who have had at least one depressive episode more frequently than annually, such as every six months.
Dr. Robert Gordon, the chief medical director at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life in North Wales, shares Goldmintz-Gotfried’s sentiments.
He told the Exponent that depression often goes undiagnosed by physicians, especially in seniors.
Gordon said many seniors suffer from depression, but as they get older, they usually worry about more serious physical ailments.
All of the Abramson residents are evaluated for depression, and there is a weekly meeting that helps people cope with it.
He said that if someone is seeing a primary doctor for physical pain, the physician might not always notice any emotional pain.
“A lot of people don’t want to say they are depressed,” he said. “Often people don’t want to go into it.”

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