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The Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford will host the 25th Music Festival for Brain Health, their annual celebration and educational forum on behalf of research on the neuroscience of mental health disorders. This year’s featured musical performer at the forum on Saturday, Sept. 14 will be nine-time Grammy recipient Sheryl Crow.

Motivated by their son Brandon’s onset of schizophrenia 29 years ago, Napa Valley vintners Garen and Shari Staglin made a decision, as they put it, “to run toward the problem.” That “run” has resulted in the creation of their nonprofit organization, One Mind, which has raised more than a third of a billion dollars and been a catalyst for progress in understanding and treating a spectrum of psychiatric conditions.

Former eight-term Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a long-time passionate health care advocate, co-founded One Mind with the Staglins and has been an important bridge to government on behalf of their efforts on brain health. On the phone last week, Kennedy talked about how Shari and Garen Staglin were some of the few people in the country who supported his efforts spearheading mental health legislation when he was in Congress.

“Garen and Shari were the only ones who were consistently doing fundraisers for me year in and year out because I was carrying the cause of mental health in Congress,” Kennedy said. “I mean, it was really shocking. You could count on one hand the number of people who gave money, and they were all treatment providers or pharmaceutical companies, and maybe a consumer here and there.”

While Kennedy sponsored, co-sponsored and supported numerous mental health-related initiatives during his Congressional tenure, he identifies his lead sponsorship and enactment of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 as his most important contribution.

The law ensures that insurance policies and health plans that cover both physical and mental health do so with the same reimbursement rules and restrictions.

“We’re talking about a medical civil rights challenge,” Kennedy said. “Parity means that you can no longer carve out mental health. You can no longer treat it as separate and unequal to the rest of medicine.”

Kennedy saw One Mind’s research effort as analogous to the space race in the 1960s. “What we needed to do was have a new space race,” he said. “Instead of going to outer space, we needed to go to inner space. Instead of trying to discover the outer galaxies, what we needed to do is discover the inner galaxy of neurons in our brains. We needed to make neuroscientists the astronauts of our generation. That would pay off in dividends for everything from autism to Alzheimer’s and addiction in between. And those are just the A’s.”

Like Brandon Staglin, Kennedy has a psychiatric diagnosis – his is bipolar disorder with a history of addiction to alcohol and drugs. And like the Staglins, he has run toward, not away, from the problem. He talks about his condition, which led him to leave elective politics.

“I have a chronic illness,” he said, “and it would often manifest in ways that would bring me great shame because I’d get a DWI or make some spectacle of myself. And because I was a public official, it was seen as scandalous.

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“I recognized that after my father (Senator Ted Kennedy) died in 2009 I was kind of in a free fall. I was still functional to some extent, but I knew that it was a losing proposition to stay in public life. So I decided to retire, left just after the ACA (Affordable Care Act) was passed and signed into law, including the parity provisions that made Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act part of the central health benefits, which was a big, big win.

“I kind of felt like God was telling me, tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘You did enough, like take care of yourself.’ And so I got out and I got help. Not being in the hurly burly and stress of being a public official, I could really focus on my recovery full time. I was basically going to 12-step meetings all the time. I did that for a long time and I’m still doing it today.”

Kennedy is effusive in his praise for the Staglins. “They understand the big picture of bringing in supporters from the highest echelons of business,” Kennedy said. “Because Garen’s a board member of Silicon Valley Bank, he knows the tech community. He knows those in the last generation who accumulated great wealth in Silicon Valley. And he is enlisting that in this effort, and that is a tremendous value to the whole One Mind movement.”

“God bless Garen,” he added. “He’s amazingly without ego. I mean with all that he’s done in life, he’s like always, ‘Brandon’s doing this, Shari’s doing that, General Chiarelli (former One Mind CEO) is doing that, Patrick’s doing this.’”

Kennedy added a note of special admiration for Brandon Staglin, whose illness triggered the initial One Mind effort, and whose adaptation to his condition has been stunning. “I really want to say a special word about Brandon,” he said. “Yeah, I love that guy. There’s so few people with these conditions who are able to speak up because the nature of their illness is so debilitating. And there’s also few people who are able to speak up because of the shame and stigma of them.”

“Brandon is an extraordinary spokesperson for this movement because he’s got parents and friends and family who love him and support him, and because he has been blessed to have the best medical treatment and have that treatment early in his illness. He is a living example that this approach works. He is an extraordinary human being who is so compelling that he advances this cause through his own personal example.”

“He’s absolutely blessed us all with how powerful he is when he talks about his own experience, when he shows people the wonder of what is possible. He’s so inspiring and he understands the science as well as any one of those researchers who we give grants to.”

This year’s scientific symposium will be moderated by Eric Nestler, MD, Ph.D, Dean for Academic and Scientific Affairs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The keynote speaker will be John Krystal, MD, chair of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Krystal is a world leader in research on post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.

All tickets, including ones for the symposium, are sold out. See Music-festival.org for further event details.

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David Kerns is a Napa-based novelist and freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.

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