Patrick Kennedy is no doubt on the road today promoting the release of his new tell-all book that details his personal journey of addiction and mental illness against the backdrop of his life in a famous American family.
“A Common Struggle” includes political and personal stories from Patrick’s childhood, from his 16 years serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and from his current mission of advocacy for behavioral health policy. He notes that too often behavioral disorders are regarded with pathological silence.
For example, he recently told “60 Minutes” that his late father, Ted Kennedy, refused to acknowledge his alcohol addiction when Patrick and his siblings approached him about it years ago. Ted walked out of the room and closed the door. Patrick said both of his parents self-medicated under the crushing weight of the many tragedies they experienced.
The book will undoubtedly draw attention because of its Kennedy-family marketability, however, Patrick’s intent is to leverage that appeal to further his advocacy for mental health and addiction policy change.
Also timed with the book's release was a brief from the Kennedy Forum, the organization Patrick started last year that aims to recast the infrastructure around behavioral healthcare. Here are the top-line recommendations from “Fixing Behavioral Health Care in America.”
- Wide implementation of a collaborative care model
- Promotion of evidence-based treatment for comorbid disorders
- Integration of behavioral providers with medical specialties, particularly primary care
- Ongoing care coordination, especially post-discharge
The ideas all sound pretty straightforward, but what is yet to be determined is whether Patrick—no longer a politician—can drive an agenda like that exclusively from his advocacy position. As a Congressman in 2008, he was an influential sponsor of the parity law. When he retired in 2011, it was the first time in almost 65 years that no members of the Kennedy family held a public office.
I’ve heard him speak at industry events several times, and the last time I saw him, he framed his current challenge rather well: “What’s missing here, my friends, is the political will.”