The Kennedy Forum Illinois, formed by Chicago business leader Peter O’Brien, brought together educators, mental health professionals, advocates, and lawmakers last month to address issues relating to the importance of recognizing and treating mental health issues. O’Brien and his wife Mimi, who lost a son to mental illness, believe and advocate for the importance of de-stigmatizing mental illness so that earlier discovery can lead to more effective treatment.
The Kennedy Forum Illinois was inspired by the Kennedy Forum, which was created by the son of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, to make mental health an essential component of healthcare through the implementation of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008. Fifty-one years ago, President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, the anniversary of which was commemorated last year with a big event held by the Kennedy Forum.
The thrust of these movements is to work toward eliminating the stigma of mental illness and the provision of effective treatment. Discussed during the Kennedy Illinois Forum last month were issues such as the prevalence of mental illness, including the fact that approximately 50 percent of us will have a diagnosable mental disorder in our lifetimes, the lack of treatment, as well as the impact of childhood trauma on mental illness.
Showing an understanding of the recent research on the effects of childhood trauma on the human brain, Kennedy spoke on the importance of prevention in his remarks to the crowd at last month’s forum. “The best way to treat mental illness is to prevent it,” he said, “and we do not have a prevention strategy in this country. Some mental illness is the result of people simply growing up in toxic environments where their brains are inalterably affected by the stress and trauma of growing up. . .” especially in cities plagued with violence.
The forum also included a panel discussion on children’s mental health including a discussion on the impact of toxins, trauma, and stress in utero on human mental health.
A number of notable people attended and/or presented at the conference on issues including depression, personality disorders, suicide, and the effects of murder on family mental health. This included dinner speaker Mariel Hemingway, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears, and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, among others.