Patrick Kennedy's Secret (posted March 1, 2000)

Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island disclosed yesterday that he takes antidepressants for periodic bouts of depression and has visited a psychiatrist regularly since 1986. The news stunned many local observers, but should not be considered surprising in light of Kennedy's difficult childhood. Between a mother who struggled with alcohol, a father who was away traveling around the country, and older siblings who went off to college just as Kennedy was hitting his teenage years, Kennedy's upbringing was not the fairy tale many envision. Everyone thinks because his last name is Kennedy that he had an easy route to his current position as a member of Congress and nationally prominent political leader.

But in my forthcoming book, Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power, which is scheduled to be published by Prentice Hall later this year, I show that Kennedy's childhood was not easy and that though a Kennedy, Patrick struggled with people's unrealistic expectations about what it meant to be a Kennedy. With the social and political prominence that the family has, no one is neutral about the Kennedys. People either love or hate them.

The strong emotions involved in being a Kennedy pose serious problems for those being raised in the spotlight. Patrick's search for help through therapy is not atypical in his family. Around one-quarter of the Kennedy cousins have been said to be in counseling, therapy, or Alcoholics Anonymous programs. It is not that they are more screwed up than the rest of us. They have to deal with impossible expectations that other people bring to them. The difficulties many Kennedys have in coping stem as much from us as them. Kennedy deserves credit for recognizing that he had a problem and getting the treatment that has allowed him to flourish as an adult.

For more details on Kennedy's rise to political prominence, stay tuned for publication of my biography of him that is coming out later this year. You will learn other tidbits about how Kennedy dealt with adversity and overcame obstacles on his route to political success.