Justice in Mental Health – Discussing a Civil Rights Issue
Fr. Scott Donahue participated in the Kennedy Forum of Illinois’ fourth annual meeting. Bending Towards Justice—A Summit For Mental Health Equity brought together several high profile figures to discuss issues around mental health, including Olympian Michael Phelps, political adviser and analyst David Axelrod, the Honorable Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, Bright Star Church of God in Christ Pastor Christopher T. Harris, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, First Lady of New York City Charlene McCray, and national forum founder Patrick J. Kennedy.
The Kennedy Forum was founded to combat the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse that too often prevents victims to seek the help that could save their lives.
Peter O’Brien founded the Illinois chapter of the Kennedy Forum in 2014. Fr. Scott is a member of the Leadership Council of the Kennedy Forum of Illinois and a number of coworkers from the Home attended.
“I’m so terribly proud of our friend, Peter O’Brien, for putting this spotlight on mental health and addiction issues,” Fr. Scott said. “And for creating a space for conversation and education about solutions and better health care right here in Illinois.” These serious issues impact many of the families of young people at Mercy Home.
The gathering consisted of multiple sessions and large presentations addressing several topics related to mental health, with a special focus on addiction, especially the fallout from America’s opioid crisis, and the justice system. Held the day after the national observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Day and in the 50th anniversary year of the deaths of King and Patrick Kennedy’s uncle Bobby Kennedy, the program looked at mental health and addiction through the lens of civil rights. The day’s discussions, O’Brien said, would address “one of the most pressing human and civil rights challenges of our time, a struggle that affects hundreds of millions around the world—discrimination against people with mental health and addiction challenges.”
Various programming throughout the day examined the racial disparities in the justice system as it relates to drugs, in particular to opioid use, suicide in jails, mental health care in prisons, the increase in incarcerated women, the impact of depression, PTSD, and addiction among law enforcement officers, the intersection of trauma and economic inequality on violence, and much more. One afternoon assembly included a captivating presentation by actor Tom Arnold who described his own battle with substance abuse and his trauma from childhood sexual abuse.
The forum urges the public to take a pledge to stand up for mental health equity and justice. You can add your voice to fight discrimination against people with mental health and addiction challenges and to advocate for better care for those who suffer.