"Did someone or something fail Jared Loughner?" CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked recovering alcoholic and former congressman Patrick Kennedy Sunday. The question came after Kennedy described his alcoholic condition as a mental disease and not a moral failure, and attributed mental illness to Loughner, the Tuscon shooter who killed six and critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January.
When Kennedy was asked about Loughner being "failed," he issued a sweeping indictment of society. "Clearly we all failed," he said, noting that the Giffords assassin was mentally ill and was not treated for his ailments. "We failed as society because every time we see someone who's – and we use the pejorative words 'crazy,' you know, 'psycho,' 'nuts,' we look the other way."
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Gupta's one hour special "Patrick Kennedy, Coming Clean" aired Sunday night on CNN, and featured an extensive interview with Kennedy on his childhood and struggle with alcoholism as a congressman. Kennedy touted his new "moonshot" program for brain research to treat conditions like alcoholism, which he claims is a neurological disorder.
Kennedy sympathized with Loughner as someone else who suffered from an untreated mental illness. He compared the stigmas directed at the mentally ill with the injustices suffered by minorities before the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
"The most persistent stigma and discrimination and prejudice, really exists still, to this day, towards people with mental illnesses," Kennedy claimed. "There is that sense like Jared Loughner out in Arizona, 'he's crazy'. They look the other way, not thinking that this is someone who's sick and needs health care. Instead, because we look the other way and he goes untreated, he shoots and kills people including a good friend of mine Gabby Giffords."
Gupta certainly showed his respect for the Kennedys during the hour-long special, describing the "goosebumps" he gets when outside the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. He also allowed Patrick Kennedy to dance around certain tough questions during a show that was ironically named "Coming Clean."
For instance, Kennedy did not answer if alcohol was often available to him at his family's house or "part of every evening there" while growing up, instead saying that he simply used it to run away from his problems.
When asked at what specific point he "hit rock bottom," Kennedy also dodged that question. "Well I've struggled and I haven't had perfect sobriety over the long-term but I have put certain days together and managed effectively just to live and fight for another day legislatively," he answered.
When Gupta asked him if he drank or used drugs "in the office" as a congressman, Kennedy responded defensively. "Sanjay, I think the point of this is that I clearly had treatment while I was a member of Congress." Kennedy also wouldn't say specifically who his "enablers" of his addictions were while in office.
Gupta concluded the show by "marveling" over Kennedy's journey. "You know, I can't help but marvel what a time this has been for Patrick Kennedy, losing his father, stepping down from Congress, now about to get married and taking on this staggering new mission. The next chapter, of course, still to be written but really this is a new beginning more than any of us could hope for."
A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on May 22 at 7:00 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN chief medical correspondent: (Voice-over) Kennedy didn't exactly keep his problems hidden. It might have been impossible anyway. But instead of running away, he made addiction treatment and mental healthcare a central issue.
Former congressman PATRICK KENNEDY: (Video Clip) I have an addiction. I have a mental illness.
GUPTA: (Voice-over) But I have never heard Patrick, or any politician for that matter, as candid as he was now.
GUPTA: Is addiction a moral failure, or is it a disease of the brain?
KENNEDY: It's a disease of the brain. Clearly.
GUPTA: Absolutely. Clearly.
KENNEDY: Clearly. Yes. This is totally a neurological disorder. And, of course, we've so shamed this illness that if you have a person who is in their right mind, why would anybody subject themselves to the shame of being out-of-control, alcoholic, addict? Who wants those as pejorative terms to describe them? Because no one that I know would have subjected themselves to the kinds of ridicule and shame that these diseases subject someone to.
KENNEDY: We're in modern times, and people are still treating this illness as if it's back in the Dark Ages. Well, you know, Civil Rights didn't pass until, you know, '64 and '65 with the Voting Rights Act, and of course we had to go through a great deal before America finally came to the realization "Hey, why don't we treat everybody the same?" And, I mean it seems to me hard to believe that even within the last century we had a holocaust not only in Europe, but in Rwanda and Burundi. We have genocide as we speak around the world. And we're thinking we live in modern ages. It just brings home the fact that basic justice is not always something we can take for granted.
GUPTA: And you – I mean, you think with regard to mental illness, the way people are discriminated against, still stigmatized despite this bill, is on that level? Civil rights? Genocide?
KENNEDY: You know, it's – when we look back in history and see how populations in our country were persistently discriminated against and segregated and marginalized, you think of minority groups of all colors and stripes, gender, you name it. The most persistent stigma and discrimination and prejudice, really exists still, to this day, towards people with mental illnesses. There is that sense like Jared Loughner out in Arizona, "he's crazy." They look the other way, not thinking that this is someone who's sick and needs health care. Instead, because we look the other way and he goes untreated, he shoots and kills people including a good friend of mine Gabby Giffords.
GUPTA: (Voice-over) Jared Loughner is the 22 year-old accused of shooting Congresswoman Giffords. He is a man with a history of alarming, erratic behavior.
KENNEDY: And now our attention is on Gabby and her recovery of her brain. And he's being jailed for his brain not being recovered. It's an irony, but we think nothing of no stigma towards Gabby and her brain injury, but he has a brain injury as well, because clearly his brain was not working properly when he picked up that gun and shot all those people. And in every picture you saw, you clearly – and story that you read, it was clear that this was someone who is, you know, mentally, physically challenged with these psychotic breaks that he was suffering from. And yet, like millions of other Americans, we're going to put him in jail, as is in the case of most people in our prison system, who are in jail because of an untreated mental illness.
GUPTA: Did someone or something fail Jarrod Loughner?
P. KENNEDY: Clearly we all failed. We failed as a society because every time we see someone who's -- and we use the pejorative words "crazy", you know, "psycho", "nuts"– we look the other way. We say oh, well we're not going to help them.
GUPTA: I get goosebumps when I come in front of the John F. Kennedy presidential library. I mean, do you still?
GUPTA: You know, I can't help but marvel what a time this has been for Patrick Kennedy, losing his father, stepping down from Congress, now about to get married and taking on this staggering new mission. The next chapter, of course, still to be written. But really, isn't a new beginning all that any of us could hope for?