Before moderating the conversation with Patrick Kennedy at the 2nd annual talk to embrace mental health awareness sponsored by Tara’s Closet out of Jewish Family Services in West Hartford CT, Jenna Bush Hager spoke a few poignant words herself. She had read in a magazine that week that with the trailer alone of the 2nd season of 13 Reasons Why Netflix series, doctors are getting calls from teens. Over 600 people attended in the Kingswood Oxford Roberts Theater.
“There’s something powerful in owning your own story” said Hager. That’s what she did in writing her new book Sister’s First with her twin sister Barbara. She read a passage describing her sister Barbara’s grief over losing a high school boy friend to suicide. Her late grandmother Barbara also struggled with depression after losing her daughter Robin at a young age to leukemia.
After Hager spoke, she introduced Jenna Polidoro, a 17-year-old from Suffield Academy who would be attending Claremont McKenna College next fall for molecular biology. Polidoro talked about how she had been struggling throughout her high school years and was recently diagnosed with depression and started Prozac which was working for her as well as working wiht a therapist.
“I hid my true emotions around others,” she said. “Because I felt vulnerable and guilty when I wasn’t happy. People may be struggling in ways you can’t imagine.”
Patrick Kennedy opened his talk with how he sponsored the the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and Hager’s father, George W. Bush, signed it into law. Kennedy was a member of Congress from Rhode Island for 16 years.
“Mental health is a medical civil rights fight that we must embark on today,” Kennedy said. The science of the brain will change everything in erasing mental health stigma, he said.
He mentioned his site paritytrack.org and how it lists states that are the best and worst in access to mental health care. Connecticut ranked 10th worst state in nation for access to care.
“Until we have disclosure there is no way we will have equal treatment.”
He talked about how former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) helped him get the Parity Act through. Dodd being on the banking committee and the health committee, wrote the subsection of the Mental Health Parity Act with the bailout for the nation’s banks in 2008 when the stock market started to tank.
“The bill intended to keep our country from going into the next Great Depression was wrapped in a bill to treat depression,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy eventually left Congress, moved to New Jersey and worked on his 12 Step recovery. He is now a mental health advocate where he co-founded One Mind for Research and you can find out more at www.patrickjkennedy.net. He’s also written the book A Common Struggle. Copies were sold there that night.
Hager asked Kennedy about the opioid epidemic because a large part of his work is combatting this.
“There is a stigma today in taking anti-depressants where there isn’t in taking a pain pill,” Kennedy said. “I tihnk we are in total denial as a nation.”
He referred people to the Millman report which can be found on his paritytrack.org.
The conversation came back to mental health and Hager told about her experience having her last child in the hospital.
“I was told all about breastfeeding but no one said anything about post-partum,” she said.
Hager spoke up and told the hospital there mental health was not up to standard.
The night concluded with the awarding of the JFS 2018 Humanitarian Award to Risa Sugarman, who I’ve interviewed on this blog before. Congratulations to Risa for her bravery in her struggle and in her ability to be open about it.