Pasco man creates nonprofit to teach about mental illness

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldMarch 23, 2013 

A Tri-City man recovering from his own diagnosis of bipolar disorder now aims to help others through a new nonprofit foundation.

Kevin Kennedy, 39, of Pasco, is a former track athlete and coach who has had a lifelong struggle with a learning disability and then diagnosis of a mental illness as a teenager.

He struggled through college and eventually earned a business degree, then found work as a track-and-field coach.

But his mental illness, coupled with seizures and alcohol abuse to try to ease the pain, left his life in a shambles. He returned to the Tri-Cities and spent five years in and out of treatment programs before becoming stable.

His experiences in the mental health system led him to start 5150 To Recovery, a nonprofit foundation that aims to educate the Tri-City community about mental illness, dispel stereotypes about people who live with mental illnesses and advocate for better community systems to help those diagnosed.

"We believe in recovery instead of just maintenance," Kennedy told the Herald.

He started the foundation in August and since has become involved in several projects aimed at improving resources for people with mental illnesses in the Tri-Cities.

Among the projects he's planning are what he describes as a "warm line" -- a phone number people could call before they reach a crisis point to find help connecting with a counselor or refilling medications, Kennedy said.

The goal is to provide an extra layer of support in the community and leave the publicly funded Crisis Response Unit free to deal with true crises, he said.

Kennedy also would like to see a mental health court established in the Tri-Cities that operate similar to a drug court and divert people with mental health diagnoses into treatment instead of jail when appropriate.

He has participated in a local committee made up of police, prosecutors, mental health providers and advocates.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said Kennedy recently gave a presentation to the committee about a Spokane mental health court and how it might translate to the Tri-Cities.

"It was well-received," Miller said.

But the committee is exploring a number of options and hasn't committed to any particular path yet, Miller added.

Kennedy said overall his goal is to help Tri-Citians for whom their mental illness may not be outwardly obvious -- the people who struggle to hold their lives together and need support to do that.

"I want to help people who don't fit the stereotype of mental illness -- the professionals who want to get their lives back," he said. "I want to break the stereotype. A lot of people hide and don't seek treatment because of the stereotype."

-- To get involved, contact Kevin Kennedy at 509-851-3187 or kevsterxc4083@yahoo.com.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @mduplertch

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