This fall there has been a marked change in mental health visibility. It seems that everywhere we are hearing about suicide prevention, bi polar disorder, borderline disorders and addiction in the positive and supportive way that other diseases have enjoyed for decades. The cause of mental illness is now out in the open as never before, and Patrick Kennedy and the Kennedy family have a lot to do with that acceptance.
In his book Kennedy describes is a devastating common struggle that millions have faced. The lack of understanding about what’s wrong, the inability for doctors and other professionals to diagnose and treat mental illness correctly, and family pressure to deny it are all too common. What is uncommon about this deeply personal memoir is that Patrick Kennedy is not a common man, and his achievements despite his challenges have been monumental.
The title may have been chosen for its humility, but the Kennedys are unique, and so is this story. It’s hard to think of another American family that has had a more powerful impact both on American politics and American health care and mental health care policies than the Kennedys. Few families have experienced the level of wealth, power, and privilege as the Kennedys. And few families have seemed so dogged by too many tragedies to count. Patrick talks of the traumas of the assassinations of his uncles, President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy that were never properly processed and mourned. They were catastrophic events that had to be relived in thousands of news stories and video clips but not spoken of at home. March on like soldiers, without complaint, was the Kennedy way. Ted Kennedy, Patrick’s father became the surrogate father of his brothers’ children. Impossible to imagine how painful his life must have been without them.
Patrick’s long and agonizing journey to diagnosis and healing is all the more poignant because it is both common and unique. Mental health is a Kennedy cause. The family business has been either politics or the social cause of parity in mental health and the care of people with brain disease or special needs. At the same time as advancing the cause of parity in health care, the Kennedys have kept a bond of loyalty that mandated a public denial of real problems while privately trying to solve them. Those in recovery know that it is impossible to heal without adequate treatment and honesty. The miracles of Patrick’s life are his long list of accomplishments and his profound Kennedy drive to make a difference in this country despite the code of silence, denial and lack of appropriate understanding of mental illness or treatment for it.
A Common Struggle reads like a suspense novel and tells the Kennedy story like no other. Patrick Kennedy is a national treasure.
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