When you hear the name Kennedy, you think of many things; the Presidency, Camelot, tragedy, the compound. What you probably do not think about is mental health issues, but that is exactly what Former United State House Representative Patrick Kennedy, along with his wife Amy, talked to students about at the Eisenhower Auditorium.
Patrick was a member of the House of Representatives for Rhode Island from 1995 to 2011. After his father, Ted Kennedy, died, he left Congress.
He became an advocate for brain diseases. Now he and Amy, a Penn State alum, travel the country as part of the “Kennedy Forum” where they talk about mental health in the country, specifically on college campuses and school.
Patrick started by talking about how he was more likely to be an alcoholic based on his parents.
“My mother was debilitated by her alcoholism, and my father self-medicated,” Patrick said.
A big theme of the evening was the “silence” behind mental issues, in that people who suffer usually suffer in silence, and do not share their illness.
In fact, Patrick did not fully come to terms with his problems in a public sphere until he got a DUI in 2006.
“When I got into the car accident, it was a way for me to get help,” Patrick said.
He admitted he felt relief because because he no longer had to hide what he was doing. Obviously, he had been in the spotlight for a long time, being a Kennedy. Though at age 21, he was elected to the Rhode Island Legislature, at 27 he was elected to the United States Congress and a few years later he was a senior member of the Democratic Party.
He jokingly said it had nothing to do with the Kennedy name.
Patrick said the best way to help the issue of mental health is through community and not going through it alone.
On the 50th anniversary of his uncle, John F. Kennedy, signing a mental health bill, Patrick held a party with various people in the mental health field. This was after he left congress in 2011, and it was done in an effort to unite these people.
“You cannot design a more fractured system than the mental health community,” Patrick said.
Amy also talked at length about her time at Penn State.
“I am really happy to be back,” Amy said. “I graduated and thought about staying.”
She also talked about their experiences at Patrick’s first and last Penn State football game.
“I made the mistake of bringing Pat up for a Thanksgiving game,” Amy said. “It was much too cold for an amateur.”
She said she did not renew her season tickets after that.
The conversation ended like many others, with changes to the health care in the country.
“Justice should not depend on geography,” Kennedy said. “Healthcare should not depend on where you come from.”