“We as a nation have long-neglected the mentally ill,” and “mental illness [is] among our most critical health problems.” So said late President John F. Kennedy in a special message to Congress (1963). This sentiment and personal concern continues in the voice and current efforts of his nephew, former congressman Patrick Kennedy, the youngest son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Last night I listened to the young Kennedy as he was the special guest for the Call-In Series, hosted by the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder. He raised many important points—not only about Borderline Personality Disorder, but all mental illnesses, insurance issues, the need to eradicate stigma, the politics of mental health care, and to use the pain of our veteran’s wounds—mental wounds—to help give voice to political advocacy for mental health.
As a sufferer of mental illness, and having other family members with the same, the former congressman said he has “an intense urgency” to improve awareness of mental health conditions as he does to improve citizens’ overall physical health. Some of his points were:
All hands on deck. We should not wait only for researchers in mental health fields, but there needs to be a concerted, unified effort of many private organizations, community groups and churches to be able to present a united front when dealing with the government on behalf of improving mental health care in this land.
Mental health advocacy should not be dismissed as a ‘special interest.’ Millions of dollars, and frequent attention is brought to other physical afflictions. Those of us on the mental health battlefield “simply want parity. We don’t want more, just equal efforts and funding to the affairs of the mind, of the brain.
Stigma is our biggest opponent. All of society–including politicians, health care workers, insurers and the public at large–need to look at mental health as a value added, not as a cost matter. If mental health evaluation is accurate, and treatment effective, it’s more likely that there will be decreased costs in other arenas such as fewer hospitalizations for improperly-diagnosed patients; less lost wages in the workplace, and fewer cases of emergency room care for self-inflicted wounds, such as cutting or suicidal gestures or attempts.
Unfortunately, people—those afflicted and/or their family members—don’t speak up. Many feel shame, and unfortunately the shame is put upon them even by some in the mental health care fields.
“The potential for illness doesn’t stop at the neck.” Those are my words, what I often tell others—insurance pre-certification clerks; and especially minorities and “church-folk” who are often quick to “just pray about it” instead of seeking mental health evaluation. Congressman Kennedy likewise said, “The brain should be treated as any other organ in the body.”
Insurance companies don’t cover mental health conditions as they do other ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and even fibromyalgia. There is no parity. This must change.
And how do we go forward, to address all mental illness–not only to PTSD or schizophrenia, but also borderline personality? Congressman Kennedy says:
Political Advocacy: With the large numbers of veterans returning home from our recent (and still current) war, many veterans have not only physical wounds that are visible, but there are the “invisible wounds of war” (i.e., mental wounds) and these must be addressed in the same way as the physical wounds.
“Our strongest political platform to address mental health issues on a national level, will be to take up the cause of our returning veterans, who suffer not only with PTSD or bipolar disorder, but also borderline personality and other mental illnesses.” Now is the time. Let’s seize the day and use this development with our troops as a vehicle to get help for them, and get our voices heard on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
For more of Patrick Kennedy’s remarks, visit www.neabpd.com, and visit him at www.parityispersonal.org. Also see my 2013 interview with mental health pioneer, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and scroll to see other related posts about Borderline Personality Disorder.
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly: T/F.