In His New Book, Patrick J. Kennedy Wants Us to See Those Struggling With Their Mental Health as Courageous

Get your copy of Profiles in Mental Health Courage here.

Please note this transcript was generated from the audio file and may contain errors. Please refer to the linked video to confirm accuracy.

Full Transcript:

Maria

We’re excited today because we’re going to talk about mental health courage. That’s right, mental health courage. And we’re going to talk with my cousin, Patrick Kennedy. This is his new book. It’s a little bit tagged up by my little notes here, but it’s really great, and he’s really great, and he’s doing all kinds of stuff. We’re going to talk about this book. It just came out today. And I got an exclusive interview with Patrick. And it’s great. It’s called “Profiles in Mental Health, Courage.” And I’m super proud of him. And I’m super proud of all the people who allow their stories to be told in this book. They’re super inspiring. They’re super inspiring, and he redefined what it means to have courage. Hi, Patrick. How are we?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Oh, fantastic. You start this off with such great energy as usual.

Maria

Oh, well, that was saying how inspiring you are. First, I was saying hi to everybody who joined because there were so many people from all over the country, all over the world who joined. So I was saying Happy Tuesday. And I was saying today, Happy pub day. Yeah. And I was talking about this as Patrick’s again, his new book “Profiles in Mental Health Courage.” And he is an advocate, a trailblazer, a total architect of change in the mental health space. He is out there day in, day out making a difference on behalf of people. And I got up. I was reading this book. So first of all, congratulations, Patrick.

Patrick J. Kennedy

Thank you. Thank you, Maria. I appreciate it so much.

Maria

Oh, it’s so great. And I was, I want to, this is a little bit tagged up here. But you said in this book, you wanted to write this book because you’ve been thinking about what courage is. And I had been having the same conversation myself with myself. And I loved that. You said, Here you write, “The truth is the most courageous people I know are qualified not for what they do in public, but for what they’re able to endure and rise above in private. This is especially true of people who struggle every day with mental illness or addiction or both, or who help loved ones or family members in their struggles.” And I love that because there’s such a, everybody’s trying to have a public persona, right? And it’s the stuff that we go through in private, that we’re so scared that people will find out about, and you, in this book, talk to people about their private struggles. Why did you want to do that?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Well, I found in my own life, integrating kind of the outside versus the inside because we make these false, you know, differences. And obviously, being in public life, my whole life as you have been, it was very important to me to try to maintain an outward presence. Forget how I felt inside, forget what was going on in my life. And it made for a torturous existence. So what I wanted people to know from listening to these 12 tremendous profiles, is that they’re not alone. And that we often hear in mental health, a very edited version of our experience. In other words, people now thanks to COVID are more willing to say they have a diagnosis. But that’s frankly where it ends. Maria, people really don’t tell more than they have to in terms of, oh, I have a diagnosis but they don’t. You know, like what Simone Biles didn’t get on the balance beam a couple of years ago during the Olympics. People are like, “What’s wrong with her? Can’t she just snap out of it? Can’t she just get with it? What is this mental health thing?” And, you know, but that was all she was comfortable talking about. And more and more of us need to understand what this really entails. So that they’re not comparing themselves, oh, this person seems to have made it because they’ve told their story. But of course, we all tell our stories with a happy kind of conclusion, oh, we made it past where we survived. But the reality is, it’s much more complex than that; people struggle still. Even when they’ve made, you know, advances, they also have setbacks. And we know and accept that in our country, we just assume it’s got to be happy ever after. And I want people to know, they’re not alone if they still struggle, and they’re not losers just because they relapse or they continue to have challenges. And, and reducing that sense of isolation, which of course, we all feel because of social media and comparing with the Joneses. But particularly powerfully with people with these illnesses, they feel so disconnected, because they can’t see how they are, frankly, not unique, that there are plenty of other people who are just like that are out there, making it through the day with lots of ups and downs. And it doesn’t have to be neat and tidy. That’s the expectation we have on ourselves is that we think it’s got to be just so, and when it’s not just so, we sink even further in our own despair.

Maria

You talked about, you said that all of these profiles, people still struggle, and that society wants kind of these stories to be tied up with a bow. And you said at the beginning of this interview, that your own life, it had been treacherous, right, that it had been really hard for you to match your public persona with your private persona. When you’re talking to people, Patrick, these profiles and mental health, courage, and you’re dealing with your own mental health challenges. What do you want people to know about these people about you, if you’re a parent of someone with mental health if you’re married to someone with mental health, that the ups and downs are normal? Common?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Right? So this is the unique part about this book. Most of these stories are in the first person narrative. Oh, it’s my struggle, my story. Here’s my story. We rarely get what’s my wife, think of me and my struggles? What’s my coworker, my son or daughter, or parent think? And in several of these stories, we had other family members speak, who the person we were covering didn’t want them to speak. But then we said, Well, part of this is to create a realistic kind of story, which means many families don’t talk to each other because of illnesses. I want this to be authentic.

Maria

It’s, I hope, hopefully, you can hear it; I lost Patrick, again, you can still hear me okay, well, until he comes back on. I’m going to tell you because I read this book, and the people in it are really extraordinary. There they are, profiles in courage. And Patrick talks a lot about the courage that we don’t see that we don’t hear about our own private battles, our own private struggles, and how courageous it is for each and every one of us to get up every single day, to get up every single day and face the world right and face. People that we love that maybe don’t understand and how much courage it takes to share our journeys, how much courage it takes to actually say, you know, I’m struggling, and I want you to hear how I’m struggling, or I need help. These are really powerful requests name of the book, please. The name of the book is “Profiles in Mental Health, Courage.” Are you back, Patrick?

Patrick J. Kennedy

I don’t know what’s happening. But thank you, everybody, for sticking with us.

Maria

Then I just want to reiterate because people come in come out the name of the book it is out today. It’s called “Profiles in Mental Health Courage.” It’s a great read. It’s an inspiring read. It’s a great gift book, to give to somebody. It’s a great conversation starter. Because you can read through and talk to people what’s your definition of courage. Patrick, in the introduction talks about changing his own definition of courage. You talk in the book, Patrick about sharing your own story and how even in our family that was hard and you lost some people through it, people got upset and that you have to learn that kind of your own sobriety Edie whether that’s emotional sobriety sobriety however you define it you’re fighting for your your life, right? So many people are out there fighting for the their lives. And that’s really what you want to talk about.

Patrick J. Kennedy

Yeah. You know, you know, your mom and my mom have been, your mom’s just been fantastic over the years with my mom and my mom has suffered from alcoholism her whole life and everybody treated her like a pariah. And I inherited that view of her as not being able to stick with it, not being able to keep up. And honestly, it’s taken me a long time to change and accept my mom was doing the best she could under the circumstances. And if I hadn’t researched about my own family, Maria, I wouldn’t have known that her mom died at 61 of alcoholism, and was absolutely alone in a little apartment in Cocoa Beach, Florida. And wasn’t found for over a week, because we find ourselves to be the kind of people who want to isolate. And I have so much more appreciation. And I also feel bad that I spent so much of my life looking at my mom in the way that everyone else looked at her, which was that she just couldn’t handle it and what was wrong with her. So I think all of us have to kind of repair these old outdated perspectives, because no one wakes up any morning, Maria says I’m going to try to lose my job, lose the affection of my family, jeopardize my safety and perhaps die today. Like, that’s not what a human being who wants to be loved, respected, gets up in the morning to do; it’s their disease that takes them hostage. And I want to feel part of a team that helps save people from being taken hostage.

Maria

I love that. And you have been you have done so much to be on that team to talk about that team. And I think that, you know, you talk about how these treatments whether you’re suffering from addiction or mental health challenge to work together, right to understand that they go hand in hand, we can’t silo people who might be working on their depression, or someone else who’s dealing with bipolar or someone else who’s dealing with a drug addiction, or an alcohol addiction. What is the umbrella that we should be looking at these under Patrick, should we be talking about mental health challenges? Should we be talking about addiction? What’s the best framing to have this conversation in our families?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Well, again, back to our family, like my dad could have lived a totally different life, but we couldn’t talk to him. He couldn’t hear from anyone about his own struggles. As you know, he had so much trauma in his life. And it was no wonder he was so affected in the way that he was. And yet, because he couldn’t talk about it, he couldn’t get help. And because stigma was so great. He couldn’t ask for help. If you looked up post traumatic stress in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of my dad in there. And yet, we didn’t know what post traumatic stress was, then we’d start to know these things now. But we still have that age-old vision that we’re not supposed to talk about these things. So you saw in the book, I interview my cousin Mark McMurray on my mom’s side of family who lost his 18 year old son Harry to suicide. It had been six years and I was the first person to really ask Mark what happened from his vantage point, because you know what, we all tiptoe around these issues, right?

Maria

I know, but we don’t feel, you know, I think this is a universal thing. People feel uncomfortable. They feel it’s not their business. They don’t want to pry. We don’t have the language around grief when someone dies. We don’t have the language around suicide. Yes. You know, what is our right to ask about? You know, were drugs involved? Doesn’t it seem like we’re prying. What is the right way to talk to someone?

Patrick J. Kennedy

So all I do again, is have other people tell their stories. And when I talked to Mark, he told me his vantage point and what happened to Harry and then I talked to Harry’s brother, he told me his vantage point on what happened. I talked to Harry’s roommate in college, he told me what he thought. But if Harry, Belmont, and Mark had ever talked to each other, you would have had a much different picture on what Harry was going through. But for exactly the point you just made, Maria, all of them felt that they didn’t want to intrude on Harry’s privacy, and that somehow he would get better, which is all of our senses. Oh, they’ll snap out of it. Oh, this is just adolescence, oh, this is just what. And I think it’s a dangerous notion that we’ve come to accept that this isn’t supposed to be our job, that it’s somehow an insult to someone that we would ask about something that’s private, when in fact, if we love them, we ought to be trying to help them, especially in an era where we have record high suicide rates and record high overdose, we cannot afford to have people think that it’ll be okay. Because really, Maria, we know it won’t be okay. And we need to go in there and try to help people wherever we can. And if that if we’re going to move the numbers and save more lives.

Maria

I love that, you know, the statistic Patrick’s has in the book: 84 million people, one in four, of us had one or more mental disorders; 28 million of us have two; 34 million, 1 in 10, had one or more substance abuse disorders; 31 million of us had a major depressive disorder; 20 million of us Generalized Anxiety Disorder; 13 million meet a diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder in the past year, but only 60% of those with any mental disorder received treatment in the past year. So these are so much, so many of these struggles are in private, right? So you’re really talking about maybe using this book as a way in to talk to people about what’s going on in our families, what’s going on in our minds, what’s going on, what do we need, but then the struggle when we say what we need so many of us can’t get the help that we need?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Maria, it’s shocking to me, you’re out there fighting to bring more awareness to Alzheimer’s. Recently, all your work on women’s health, frankly, women’s experience, double the rates of lifetime depression and trauma as men and you would assume you think of post post traumatic stress, you think men, guns, those who served double the number of men, women are twice as likely to suffer from trauma. We don’t know that.

Maria

Yeah, many women do. But I think once again, we’re trying to take care of our families, hold down a job, take care of our parents, and we don’t feel that society can handle our pain, right? We can’t handle our pain so I think that there doesn’t feel for so many people and I think whether it’s our children, ourselves, our husbands or partners or cousins that we live in a world that’s kind to us about our pain.

Patrick J. Kennedy

Well, you know what, a lot of the what I you know, these folks talk about is relationships. And that’s at the heart of this because as you’ll learn from reading the chapter on both chapters on couples, Gabrielle and Sharif, Sharif, the love he has for Gabrielle is so palpable, he said, You know, I hate her bipolar. I love her. I couldn’t imagine being married to anyone other than her. She is the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. And this is after he tells me what a nightmare her bipolar has been right? And you know, we somehow can’t reconcile both notions we think it’s supposed to be all one way or all the other and we can almost be comfortable with complexity in that gray area that’s frankly in a culture like this where we’re supposed to have you know, no yes no black white. This is living in the gray area and accepting that is okay. And living with that is okay. So, and then you have Ashley and Drew Dunlop, I was just with them in Nashville last week. Ashley has lived on this street for years. You know, sold her body for drugs. She’s still married to Drew Dunlap says I love this woman and it terrifies me whenever she goes out on a spree you know she’s had longer periods of sobriety but can’t keep it true as an amazing human being. All I’m saying is that there is beauty in kind of everybody in the people that can accept and love one another, you know, in the for the whole picture, right?

Maria

I love this question here for I’m Tina Johnson, where are my gray area peeps? I love that idea that we need gray area people on our team, we need people that love the whole of us and understand that there’s a part of us that might be traumatized, or part of us that’s grieving a part of us that has bipolar, a part of us that is scared a part of us that is a child. There’s a lot of inner family systems work that talks to people about parts of themselves. And so understanding that there’s a part of you, right? I mean, that’s what this whole book is about, is really initiating this conversation, and how complex it is, and how we need to be able to see these people, as courageous people, it’s not just somebody who skis down a Black Diamond mountain, or climbs might Mount Everest, that is courageous, that it’s the millions amongst us. That’s what you’re trying to say, Patrick, right. You’re trying to say that courage is much broader, it’s much greater, right? And that what people are dealing with day in and day out is really courageous. And you want people to see them that way. Correct?

Patrick J. Kennedy

That’s right. That’s right. You know, Maria, taking this from Uncle Jack’s book on “Profiles in Courage.” Four out of the eight people that we know of, it couldn’t be eight out of eight, but Daniel Webster died of cirrhosis of the liver because of his alcoholism. I never knew that Maria. My dad had Daniel Webster—this was who was his hero, who would have imagined Daniel Webster, died of alcoholism. Lucius Lamar, who President Kennedy featured in profiles, he saw his father go out and shoot shoot himself in front of the house. John Quincy Adams lost a son to suicide and two of his brothers to alcoholism. These are met among many stories, Sam Houston, first president of Texas, who became Senator also covered by President Kennedy. All of these people had serious mental illness. He was shamed as a politician for being the big drunk. That’s what they used to call Sam Houston, the big drunk. All I’m saying is this is not a new set of issues. Right. The good thing that we’re doing now is we’re finally coming out of the shadows, and actually talking about this. And like you said, there is no language yet. Yeah. We can’t begin as a society to wrap our arms around what politically—you know, I want to get to the policy, right—but we can’t do that unless we first understand what are we talking about? Because we can’t just talk statistics, the statistics only tell us so much, we have to talk about people’s experiences, so that we kind of know better, what policies will work and what policies may not.

Maria

There’s people saying on here, you know, obviously AA has helped so many people, which of course, it has, it’s an extraordinary movement. And so many of these programs, whether it’s AA, NA, love addicts, sex addicts, all of these things are also now on Zoom. So people can participate through zoom, but you talk in here about the importance really, of all of it working together, that people need support groups, they need cognitive behavioral therapy, they need in many cases, prescription medicine, and that it all needs to work together, right. And we have a loneliness epidemic on top of all of that, so we need therapy we need in certain situations, medication, but we all need support, right? We all need to be, you know, in a support group of some kind, whether it’s Al Ano, or AA, or you and you’ve spoken so openly about the importance yourself of attending meetings, to keep in your own sobriety out there.

Patrick J. Kennedy

Well, there’s nothing more powerful than being socially connected. And I just thrive when I’m amongst my fellows who know what I’ve gone through and I know what they’ve gone through. It may not be the same and a story, but it’s the same in terms of the feelings behind the story. I think that what we really need is to make sure that we deploy what we know works, we already could save many lives. Maria, the two thirds of the people who are overdosing have previously been hospitalized for overdoses. Why do we let people leave the emergency room after an overdose and not wrap our arms around them? If we wanted to reduce the 110,000 people, Americans who die every year to overdose? We know what we could do to save a big percentage of them.

Maria

At the time we don’t have the facilities. parents struggle all the time with children who are 18 and over or for adults who don’t take their medication, who feel like that, you know the system doesn’t support how to help people.

Patrick J. Kennedy

The system doesn’t, Maria. I mean, I was honored in Congress to write the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which is kind of a medical civil rights version. It basically says you can’t treat the brain over here and the rest of the body here, you have to integrate everything. But my point is insurance companies continue to deny, and they don’t expect people to appeal. And even if those people appeal the denials, they don’t get anything but the care they should have gotten in the first Why

Maria

What do you do?

Patrick J. Kennedy

Right now, we’re waiting for the Biden administration to issue a rule that will really enforce this law. It’s supposed to come out the first week in July, the American Health Insurance Plans. AHIP is pushing back aggressively against President Biden, to say he shouldn’t release the rule because they think it’s too onerous for them. And this is where we don’t have enough political power, Maria, because we are bigger than US steel, you remember in The Godfather movie, you know, our but we’re bigger than we in mental health and addiction, and our families are the biggest special interest group in this country. But we don’t flex our political power. And when we do Maria, we’ll make all those changes that we need to make in order to fix these big systemic gaps that we had.

Maria

So Patrick is asking one, buy the book, or I’m asking you to buy the book it is out today. It’s called “Profiles in Mental Health Courage,” this will be up in the Sunday paper. This Sunday, we’re doing a whole special edition on mental health. So I hope you’ll see that and I hope you’ll support this book. As Patrick mentioned, there’s a QR code at the end of the book, which will tell you kind of what you’re doing, where resources are about in the country, how you can get involved, how you can help. If you are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges, or someone you love is. Know that the numbers are huge. And you’re not alone, actually, you’re probably in the majority. And that there is help out there and to flex our muscles in community. And because it is in community that things get done. Is that about it, Patrick?

Patrick J. Kennedy

That’s why you’re so good at this. Next time, just have you do my interviews.

Maria

I love you and I have been beside you throughout your entire life. I’m older than Patrick. And I’ve watched him really struggle and then find his footing and build a life that is just extraordinary. He has built an incredible life for himself, has made working on behalf of others the central point of his life, he has a beautiful wife, beautiful children. And he’s out there every single day working on his own sobriety and helping others with theirs, whatever it is, so that to me is a profile in life, its profile and mental health courage. And he’s sharing so many others in this book, it’s really inspiring. It’s a great gift book to give to other people to initiate those conversations that we’re scared to have. And so if somebody says why are you asking me these questions, say Patrick Kennedy told me to. So blame it on Patrick, and use it as an opportunity. But I want to thank you, Patrick, for all your work. Once again. We’re going to put this up on Sunday, we hope to sell a lot of books for you that I think will be great for the heart and soul of our country.

Patrick J. Kennedy

Thank you, Maria. I love you for putting this all together.

Maria

Okay, I love you. And I love all of you who joined us and stuck with us through the frozen images, stayed the course. Today’s pub day for Patrick. So thank you for holding him with your thoughts and in your arms and holding him even when he was frozen. He’s back. He’s thawed out. Ready to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by MonsterInsights