Mental Health Matters: Kennedys rise as leaders again
Everyone north and south of the Canada/U.S. border knows about the legacy of political and social leadership emanating from the Kennedy family.
President John F. Kennedy was seen as a force who brought more equality with race relations, restored U.S. supremacy in the space race, transformed the McCarthy-era panic about communism and engaged and mobilized young people with the Peace Corps.
Robert Kennedy led the fight against organized crime and proliferation of street drugs and contributed his own momentum to better inter-racial equality.
Edward “Ted” Kennedy led the charge for socialized medicine in the United States for many years and helped broker many agreements between the political right and left for a more moderate and accepting governance.
Today, Ted’s son, Patrick Kennedy, who served as Congressman for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District from 1995 to 2011, is taking the legacy of Kennedy leadership in a whole new direction.
The leadership agenda Patrick has chosen requires as much passion, courage, clear-thinking and positivity as that shown by his famous father and uncles as he is working to do no less than reduce the stigma of mental illness in our society.
He is out in front of a movement of politicians and celebrities to come clean and talk openly about their mental illnesses and, in doing so, reduce society’s fears and misguided apprehensions about living and working with people who have a mental illness.
In support of Patrick’s aims, an editorial in the Boston Globe said this:
“Previous generations used to whisper the word ‘cancer.’
“Today, we speak about it openly as we walk for a cure.
“Previous generations used to hide the developmentally disabled. Today, we celebrate them in the Special Olympics.
“In an era when medical conditions from AIDS to Alzheimer’s have found widespread acceptance in mainstream society, one glaring social stigma remains: Serious mental illness.”
Patrick is asking people to step forward, talk with candour and humour about their mental illness and increase understanding and compassion among all of us.
How does he suggest we start this?
First, see the Oscar-nominated movie Silver Linings Playbook, which gives a humane, witty insight into someone with bipolar disorder.
In the words of his famous Uncle Robert before his assassination in 1968: “Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society.
“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
We have many prominent people with this kind of courage in our community — and more are needed.
Without the willingness to discuss mental illness, we will be resigned to a society in which the belief persists that every violent crime is committed by someone with a mental illness.
Join the discussion, learn more and bring compassion and understanding back to the issue.
You never know if there is a modern-day Ludwig Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Winston Churchill or Patrick Kennedy (who has bipolar disorder) waiting for us to quit judging them long enough to contribute their true talents.
Until next time, write to us at Kamloops@cmha.bc.ca with your questions or suggestions for our column — and, by all means, make it a point to watch Silver Linings Playbook!