Diseases of the brain continue to be taboo. Most stigmatized of all? Addiction and mental illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people with mental illness are perceived as difficult, unintelligent and incapable of making decisions. People with severe mental disorders die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population.
To tackle this grossly overlooked public health problem, the 8th Annual Forbes Healthcare Summit of 2019 assembled an all-star panel of cultural, political and professional sports icons in a session titled, “Brain Health Matters: The Silent Stigma – Healing the Brain,” moderated by the host of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Founder of The Kennedy Forum, was born into an iconic family – equally famous, perhaps, for its politics as its problems with addiction and mental illness. “I was in rehab at age 17 for addiction,” said Kennedy, author of A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. “After my father’s death, I left Congress. It was the best thing for me.”
The pervasive social discrediting of mental illness was a recurring theme. Kennedy used the military to make his point. During a visit to Fort Bragg, NC, General Hugh Shelton explained the importance of mental health services for his soldiers. “If the military has figured it out, then why hasn’t corporate America?” asked the former Congressman. Kennedy further expressed his disdain: “Not one insurance company provides equal access to mental health on par with medical and surgical care.” He continued: “The insurance system is not designed to treat people with mental illness. They cost too much because they don’t intervene early enough.”
The former House Representative and co-founder of Psych Hub, whose own father, Senator Ted Kennedy, died of a brain tumor, tied the nation’s stigma to his personal upbringing. “We’re in such denial as a country. Just like my family.”
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