Founder of the Kennedy Forum and Former U.S. Representative (D-RI)
“I will give you six months to get over this.”
“Why are you doing this to our family?”
“I’d love to have your problem.”
No one would say these things to someone with cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
But those of us who have depression, addictions, or eating disorders often hear remarks like these — sometimes from well-intended friends and family.
My hope is that 2015 is a year that we make momentous progress in treating disorders of the brain the same way we treat diseases in any other part of the body.
Up to 80% of people with mental illness can improve.
There’s a law that requires insurers to treat mental health concerns the same as they treat other health problems. When I was in Congress, I authored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act to prohibit discrimination in insurance coverage. The challenge we face together now is making sure the law is enforced so that all of our brothers and sisters get the care they need.
I sponsored the Parity Act and founded the Kennedy Forum because I heard too many stories of people with mental illness, including eating disorders, who were denied care. “60 Minutes” recently highlighted the case of Katherine West, a teenager with bulimia who died of heart failure after her family’s insurance company insisted she be discharged early from treatment.
We can’t lose any more young women – or men – like Katherine. No family should be shattered by the loss of a child. And as a nation, we need the talents and contributions of everyone to keep moving forward. The good news is that there’s hope. Studies show that up to 80% of people with mental illness improve with appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing monitoring.
Fifty years ago, when my uncle, President John Kennedy, signed the Community Mental Health Act, he said that people with mental illness “need no longer be alien to our affections or beyond the help of our communities.”
We have learned a great deal about mental health since then, but President Kennedy’s declaration is a clear statement of our unfinished mission. Everyone matters. Everyone deserves to get the care they need.
The 2008 Parity Law Guarantees that Mental Illness, Addiction, and Eating Disorders will be treated like any other disease. We must work together to fully implement this law.
As we begin 2015, we stand on the doorstep of making historic progress in this new civil rights struggle that President Kennedy set in motion a half century ago.
With an average of 105 suicides each day in the United States, our cause cannot wait. In 2015, the Kennedy Forum will bring the mental health community together around a common set of principles. These principles include:
- Payer accountability. We need to learn how insurance companies make their coverage decisions. With greater transparency, we will find out whether insurers are complying with the Parity Law and treating mental health the same as physical health.
- Provider accountability. We must make care more patient-centered and intervene earlier to improve mental health outcomes. Ultimately, provider accountability will lower costs because we will treat mental illnesses before they become severe and more expensive to manage.
- System Integration. Although it has been shown repeatedly that integrating mental health treatment into general health care produces better outcomes and reduces costs, we continue to maintain siloed payment and service delivery systems. When we talk about joining mind and body, system integration is where the rubber meets the road. We’ve got to get this right.
- New technologies. We have generated more scientific data in the last five years than in the entire history of humankind, according to Harvard Professor Winston Hide. With faster computers and more sophisticated analytical software, we can diagnose and treat mental illness like never before.
- Brain fitness. Learning, staying engaged in life, managing stress, and getting enough sleep improve brain functioning.Chronic stress, anxiety, poor nutrition, pollution, and unhealthy conditions undermine our ability to achieve our potential. To improve mental health outcomes, we will need to look at every aspect of people’s lives.
It’s going to take all of us — policymakers, medical experts, business leaders, advocates across the political spectrum, and people like you and me and our loved ones — to fully implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act and set a new standard for the future of mental health care in the United States.
We need your help to let policy makers, insurers and providers know that mental health care is a basic human right. We need you to speak out and help eliminate the stigma that surrounds eating disorders, mental illness and addictions.
Most of all, we need your help in educating friends and family that fair insurance coverage for mental health, including eating disorders, is the law.
As a doctor recently wrote, people with eating disorders are “empathic, creative, intuitive, hardworking, and usually gifted … When [they] are free of their illness, they are incredible people to know and be around.” Please use the resources at the Kennedy Forum website to enforce your rights under the Parity Act and get back to the lives you and your loved ones were intended to live.
Together, we can make 2015 a year of incredible strides toward achieving President Kennedy’s vision of an America where everyone has access to care and treatment, housing and employment, and everything they need to thrive.
Thank you for all you do.
Patrick J. Kennedy