Our Common Struggle

Our Common Struggle

A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction

By Patrick Kennedy and Stephen Fried

Patrick Kennedy, son of Senator Ted Kennedy, was a congressman from Rhode Island when he drove his car into a police barrier in front of the US Capitol in 2006. At the time he had no idea what happened because he was so spaced out from painkillers and alcohol. For many years he had suffered from bipolar disorder and addiction, but he kept it well hidden. Somehow he still managed to function in Congress. After this incident he ‘came out’ and publicly admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He entered a treatment program and continued to lobby in congress for insurance parity for mental illnesses and addiction.

This book looks at Kennedy’s life both before and during his recovery years. It is a well written and very honest account of his own personal battle with mental illness and his very public work in Congress to pass a bill that would help provide  mental healthcare to the many Americans that needed help.

Reading about Kennedy’s personal struggles I was struck by how very fortunate he is to be alive to write his own story. When looking at the list of medications he was taking, along with the amount of alcohol he consumed, it truly is miraculous that he survived. Sharing what he called the ‘Kennedy family secrets’ about their addictions and dysfunctional behaviors helped his recovery. It also gives us some insight into what it was like being part of that very influential family and their expectations.

Details of the past history of Medicare and Medicaid bills was quite interesting, but the authors sometimes got bogged down in those details and this reader had to skim and then go back to reread carefully to follow all of it; however, it is very helpful to understand where we are in the process of obtaining parity for mental illness healthcare even today. Here are the major points:

  • In 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid programs were a established, the people with intellectual disabilities were able to live at home and were fully covered for all of their care and needs.
  • For those suffering from mental illness or addiction, however, it was something very different. At that time many of the institutions housing those with mental illnesses were closed. The new laws did not establish anything to provide help.
  • Mental  illness was not considered a disability  and was not even considered a real illness. Thus, there was no insurance coverage.
  • In the 1990s Kennedy and Congress worked on a health security act to shift very basic health and addiction coverage to be covered by a parity law that would mandate insurance plans to cover mental health.   During that time, Kennedy was facing his own demons trying to de-tox, yet self-medicating by  taking large doses of painkillers and over the counter stimulants, as well as alcohol.

This book, written in 2015, gives you a factual account of Patrick Kennedy’s  lifetime struggle with mental illness and addiction. It is also a great review of how we came to this point with our government  healthcare issues. I would recommend this book to anyone, but it is especially good if you want to be better informed about mental healthcare in this country.  Kennedy’s push for parity in healthcare and research funding is helping all of us with the struggle to find resources and care for our families.

*Kennedy’s book can be found in the Brookings Public Library in large print. This review was written by BEP member Kathie Tuntland. She is a retired educator and an avid reader.

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