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After decades of discrimination, stigma and silence, it is time to banish prejudice and put a face on mental illness, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy told a packed audience at USC Gould School of Law.
The event, “University Students Living with Mental Illness: Changing the Conversation,” was sponsored by the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics, and drew nearly 200 students, professors and mental health advocates.
Kennedy led the discussion with USC Gould Prof. Elyn Saks, USC Gould student Evan Langinger and USC psychiatry resident Michelle Wu. Stephen Behnke, director of Ethics for the American Psychological Association, moderated the event.
“I think we’re in the midst of the beginning of a new civil rights movement,” said Kennedy, who served in the House of Representatives for 12 years and is the son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “We’re dealing with medical treatment of a medical issue, and we’re dealing with prejudice. When you marry prejudice and ignorance together, you have a really ugly combination that marginalizes the treatment of these issues because they’re viewed as moral issues not medical issues; they’re viewed as character issues not chemistry issues. In order to get to the treatment we have to address the broader attitudinal barriers.”
Kennedy, who has struggled with bipolar disorder, addiction and depression, sponsored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a 2008 bill that requires most health insurance companies to offer equal mental health and physical health coverage.
“The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, is our civil rights act,” Kennedy said. “Brain health should be afforded the same treatment as cardiovascular health.”