• Building Bridges By Faith
  • 2017 Catholic Health Assembly

Patrick J. Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy

The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy
Founder, The Kennedy Forum
Co-Founder, One Mind for Research
Author, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction 

Monday, June 12, 8:00 a.m.

During his eight terms as Rhode Island's First Congressional District's State Representative, Patrick Kennedy became a pioneer in mental health policy and advocacy. A public health issue that hits close to home for Kennedy, mental illness was the main focus of his legislative efforts while on Capitol Hill. In 2008, Kennedy was the author and chief sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, guaranteeing equal access to mental health and addiction services for the first time in American history. After passing the Act, Kennedy knew he had aided the coming generations experiencing mental health issues.

As a member of the Kennedy family, his entire life has been public knowledge. Kennedy grew up belittling the signs he saw of his own mental illness due to fear of stigma attached to the idea of having a mental illness. Meanwhile, his brother lost a leg to cancer, his sister seemed to have won her battle against lung cancer, his father developed a brain tumor, and his parents went through a very public divorce. Therefore, Kennedy felt his health concerns were simple to what surrounded him. It wasn't until Kennedy had an eye–opening accident that he realized just how serious his condition was. After crashing into a barrier outside the Capitol building, Kennedy was charged with a DUI for mixing different medicines for his mental health condition. There was no way to keep it quiet any longer. From the accident, Kennedy was properly evaluated and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. So, Kennedy took the authority he had and used it to draw attention to health issues like his and those of many other Americans.

Upon leaving Congress in 2011, Kennedy made a promise: to be a vocal advocate for the full and unequivocal implementation of the 2008 Parity law. In addition, he committed to pushing for a greater global investment in brain research, which Kennedy says is the "next great frontier in medicine." From his own observation and research, Kennedy noticed the stark difference between physical illnesses and mental illnesses when it comes to our society's healthcare priorities. To make his promise a reality, Kennedy has been instrumental in the formation of two innovative organizations: One Mind for Research and the Kennedy Forum on Community Mental Health.

As a co-founder of One Mind for Research, Kennedy is leading the call to revolutionize the ways we study, diagnose and treat brain diseases. To achieve these objectives, One Mind is pioneering an innovative approach to open science that ensures that scientific research, results and data are available and accessible to everyone. Meanwhile, The Kennedy Forum on Community Mental Health is part of Kennedy's ongoing national dialogue about the state of mental health in America. The Forum's mission is to unite the nation's healthcare system and rally the mental health community around a common set of principles. These include fully implementing the 2008 parity law, bringing business leaders and government agencies together to eliminate issues of stigma, working with providers to guarantee equal access to care, ensuring that policymakers have the tools they need to craft better policy and giving consumers a way to understand their rights.

Kennedy has authored and co-sponsored dozens of bills to increase the understanding and treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including the National Neurotechnology Initiative Act, the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act, the COMBAT PTSD Act, The Nurse-Family Partnership Act, the Positive Aging Act, the Alzheimer's Treatment and Caregiver Support Act, and the Ready, Willing, and Able Act, which called on the Department of Homeland Security to deploy a civilian response system to blunt the psychological impact of terrorism.

Kennedy has been recognized by many organizations for his mental health advocacy and leadership. He is the recipient of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Distinguished Service Award, the Society for Neuroscience Public Service Award, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation Humanitarian Award, the Clifford Beers Foundation Centennial Award, the Autism Society of America Congressional Leadership Award, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Paul Wellstone Mental Health Award, and the Epilepsy Foundation Public Service Award. In 2014, he was recognized by the Society of Biological Psychiatry, The Samaritan Institute, and The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse (AMERSA). In October 2015, Kennedy released A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, which details his personal and political fight with mental illness and substance use disorders, while exploring the history of behavioral health care in the US.

Kennedy currently lives in New Jersey with his wife, Amy, and their four children.