It’s time to stop living in denial

Last month, The Kennedy Forum brought together leaders in advocacy, treatment, research, policy and government to end the denial – socially, politically, and through insurance practices – that has led to the separate and unequal treatment of mental health conditions and addiction. It was an honor to host The New Frontier of Mental Health and Addiction in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room of the U.S. Senate as a call to action for the civil rights issue of our generation: mental health parity. I encourage those who weren’t able to join us in Washington to watch the highlights video below:

The New Frontier of Mental Health and Addiction

I want to thank Roxanne and Cindy for having the courage to share their families’ powerful stories of having treatment for their children’s mental health and addiction care denied, in clear violation of the parity law. Stories like theirs are essential to understanding the nature of mental health and addiction and the critical importance of parity. Their experiences underscore the urgency of this crisis, and they give faces and voices to the staggering statistics of mental health and addiction. We encourage you to share your stories with us on social media using #ParityIsEquality.

I would also like to thank the many members of Congress and Senators from both sides of the aisle, Surgeons General Vivek Murthy and David Satcher, and other leading experts and advocates who joined us for this nonpartisan event, including:

  • Dr. Nora Volkow – Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Dr. George Koob – Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Dr. Joshua Gordon – Director, National Institute of Mental Health
  • Dr. Diana Bianchi – Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Mental health and addiction are bipartisan issues, affecting all Americans, that can and must unite us as we work to strengthen communities, rebuild families, end stigma, and ultimately save lives.

At the event, we released Navigating the New Frontier of Mental Health and Addiction: A Guide for the 115th Congress. The guide is a blueprint that provides specific, immediate actions, broken down by congressional committee, to improve mental health and addiction care and ensure equal access. We also called on the government to support open science principles, and adopt a bold approach to how money is spent for research into all brain diseases.

With the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, threats to parity and equality for mental health and substance use disorders, and the raging epidemics of suicide and overdose, we urge leaders on all levels to stop living in denial.

It’s time to reduce the rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths at rates commensurate with the progress we’ve made in reducing deaths from other chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. We must seize the opportunity to proactively focus on health equity, especially mental health equity, as the civil rights issue of our time.

Together we can ensure that providers are held to evidence-based standards and treatment, that insurers cover mental health and addiction care the same as they cover other illnesses, and that we invest in the new frontier of mental health and addiction.

Now is the time to end the denial. With political will, collaboration, and focus on implementation, we can achieve true equality for the millions living with a mental health condition or addiction.

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“We stand on the doorstep to make momentous progress in advancing the cause of this new civil rights struggle started by the work of President Kennedy over 50 years ago.”
— Patrick J. Kennedy