Jenna Bush Hager moderated a conversation with Patrick J. Kennedy about mental health at a Tara’s Closet fundraiser

 

 

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.

Tara’s Closet: A Two-fold mission to End Stigma of Mental illness and Clothe Hartford’s Neediest populations

Barbara in Closet

Barbara Roth, mother of Tara Savin, holds Tara’s jacket in Tara’s Closet Photo Courtesy of Kim Margolis, JFS

Tara Savin was a bright and talented young woman who battled bipolar disorder symptoms perhaps since the 6th grade. She attended the private school Kingswood Oxford and then it was on to Boston University where she double majored in International Studies and Women’s studies. She went on to receive a Master’s in Mass Communication where she went to work for Town and County magazine in New York City as a junior editor. She also received another Master’s in social work and did an internship at Jewish Family Services in West Hartford. At age 38, Tara lost her life-long battle with bipolar disorder.

Honoring Tara’s Mission

Her mother Barbara Roth saw a need in the community when she looked at JFS patrons coming from the food bank. She wondered how these people were going to clothe themselves. An idea was born. Tara had always loved fashion so she decided to start a place where people could go to get free clothing for different situations like job interviews, jobs, or other events.

Tara’s Closet

Run out of a Hartford area synagogue’s social hall, Tara’s Closet accepts monetary donations and ones of gently used clothing. They run it like a store with changing rooms to boot, except everything is given to people in need, JFS clients or people they’ve heard about who need help. They’ve helped the influx of Puerto Ricans who have come to Connecticut after the hurricane. They even gave prom dresses and warm clothing to Bulkeley high school students. A labor of love, the closet is an all-volunteer endeavor. Other Connecticut communities have asked JFS how to start something like Tara’s Closet. If they can’t use a donated item, they give it to another charity. They gave Rev. Stephen Camp jackets for people in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Hartford.

A Mission to Change the Conversation around Mental Illness

Tara’s Closet has a two-part mission, the first being to cloth people in need, the main reason is to get people talking about mental illness and erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide through sharing personal stories. They host events like the panel discussion they held at Kingswood Oxford last year with Jenna Bush Hager, Risa Sugarman and others with stories of mental health. For 2018, this May, they plan to have Jenna Hager back as well as Patrick Kennedy.

“Jewish Family Services is a safe place to come and talk,” said Barbara Roth, Founder of Tara’s Closet. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. We’re trying to remove a bad shroud [of stigma] for familes and for people who suffer can find help.”

The educational events such as the May 17 event with Patrick Kennedy are not a fundraiser but meant for educating people about mental health issues. By keeping the cost per ticket low, they attracted more than 600 people and even some local media. This year some of the corporate sponsors include: Hoffman Auto Group, DataMail, Hartford Hospital, CT Children’s Medical Center, Fierston Financial, Simsbury Bank, Bessemer Trust, United Healthcare, Weinstein Mortuary and others. Sponsorship opportunities are still available for the May 17, 2018 event at Kingswood Oxford school.

Last year, they held a salon at the West Hartford JCC airing the film “Screenagers” for teens and parents to discuss social media, bullying and suicide. They also held a discussion of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

 

A little more about Jewish Family Services of West Hartford

JFS helps all ages and stages of people affected by mental health issues and mental illness. Through counseling, on-site medication management, financial coaching, Jets employment Schmoozers, a job searching group, a Kosher food pantry, parent education programs, services and programs for older adults, Holocaust Survivor’s program, services for people with developmental disabilities, and more, they offer services and programs to serve the whole community.

 

If you would like more information about events, JFS, or to donate money, time, or clothing to Tara’s Closet, please call (860)236-1927 or visit their web site at www.jfshartford.org.