Former US presidential candidate’s lady and the battle with alcoholism and depression

VietNamNet Bridge – Suffering from alcoholism and severe depression for 12 years, Mrs. Katharine Dukakis spectacularly defeated them thanks to making public her problems.

alcoholism, Katharine Dukakis, vietnam, anti-war 


Katherine “Kitty” Dukakis was born in 1936 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1963 she married Michael Dukakis. They have 3 children and 8 grandchildren. In 1975, she became the first lady of Massachusetts when her husband became governor. As the wife of presidential candidate, she became a national public figure in the late 1980s.

Mrs. Dukakis is also a dancer and she had taught dancing for over 35 years. She and her husband are very close to Vietnam. They used to protest the Vietnam War and until now they cannot forget their experience. For Mrs. Dukakis, that was her first experience of demonstration. Her father told her: “You can demonstrate and do whatever you want but don’t get yourself arrested. That’s the thing.”

Long a part of the political scene as the first lady of Massachusetts, Kitty Dukakis is best known for her activism as well as her struggles with alcoholism and depression, through the books “Now You Know” (1990) and “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy” (2006).

Mrs. Dukakis recently paid a visit to Vietnam and had an online talk with VietNamNet’s readers.

Here is the content of the exchange:

Nguyen Thu Hien (HCM City): In Vietnam today, the rate of mental disorders seems to be double. In your opinion, what social problems does it reflect?

Mrs. Dukakis: Mental disorder is in the U.S and everywhere. It is one of the reasons that I went public, when I had successful treatment with a process called ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy).

That was 15 years ago and I had almost in instant reversal of my depression, nothing else worked, for example medication, talk therapy, none of these things helped until ECT. The doctor, who treated me today, who is English, talked to me about his working with ECT patients when he was doing the medical part of the treatment and felt very strongly about how this helps other people. That’s good to hear.

Many people suffer terribly with depression without getting help; some committing suicide tragically. I felt fortunate that it was like a miracle for me as ECT has turned my life around, it worked from the beginning. I have one treatment a month, mostly in Boston and L.A

Do you think that this trend reflects some social issues?

Mrs. Dukakis: No. I am a social worker and I work with immigrants and refugees from around the world. In my very first trip, in trying to locate and help young people, it was in 1982 when I went to Thai-Cambodia border and I found 250 kids who had lost their entire family. These young people when they knew they could trust me came to Massachusetts and I was able to get them out.

The Ambassador’s parents had survived the holocaust and I knew that so I talked to him personally “You got out; you got to help these kids get out.” Then, they did so wonderfully; I remember the sister of one of them was a leader of Cambodian community and she found out she had one surviving sibling who was 14. She didn’t know how to get a hold with me or my husband so she went to a traffic circle and looked for Dukakis’s bumper stickers. She found somebody and stopped the car when they realized she was looking for me and told her that they worked for my husband and said that they will get in touch with my husband. So the next day, we brought her in to the State house and she told me her brother who she just found out was alive.

I left the next week for Thai-Cambodia border again and found him. We got him out with the other kids who had lost everybody. The boy expressed his desire to become a doctor. He went to high school, undergraduate school and then became a physician assistant and he is one the best one in my hospital. He is just extraordinary; he is the only one who speaks Khmer when thousands and thousands of people in the hospital, especially the elderly who only speak Khmer, they don’t speak English yet. They adore him. We are waiting for him to get his girlfriend, she’s from Laos. Michael has done a lot of marriages and we are waiting for him to marry. We are very close.

When it came time for me, I should talk publicly about my issue. I knew how important it was because people who have depression were terrified to speak publicly because they were embarrassed they were going to shame their families. Fortunately, by speaking publicly, I was able to help them making decision about having treatment and about getting better.

I’m sure part of the pain and part of the depression is because of what happen here and continues to happen to certain extent affects people unless they get help. They still suffer from depression, still suffer without any reasonable answer, and don’t have the kind of treatment can make difference in their lives; that‘s tragic.

alcoholism, Katharine Dukakis, vietnam, anti-war 


I wrote a book with our one of the best writers in Massachusetts, a dear friend of ours, Lary Tye called “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy.” I have been told by many doctors, psychiatrists that this has been made the difference of thousands of people’s lives and it makes me feel much better that I was public about my disease.

Nguyen T. Phuong (Hanoi): Recently, the number of suicides, especially in teenagers is increasing, despite of warnings, what do you think the reason is?

Mrs. Dukakis: I think many of them have never been invited to talk about the pain of losing (family members) or watching their parents suffering mental disturbing problems. If you don’t talk about these things, if you don’t get help; then the situation gets worse. So teenager can have this treatment to their 17 or 18 years old but they need to learn and my book hasn’t been translated into Vietnamese and I hope someday it will be. They need to learn that there is a treatment, there’s something available for them and they can make difference for their lives, they don’t have to suffer anymore.

I would love to come back to Vietnam someday. One of the things I started in Boston is a support group. So those of us who have had treatment successfully can talk to others who are frightened about the treatment because they don’t know anything about it. It has made big difference and I’m hoping we can do this in places like Vietnam to help the suicide.

Tomorrow, I am going to talk with doctors about the obligation they have to help young people who have suffered for variety of reasons. Sometimes, youngsters don’t need a horrible war like the war you had here but there are other reasons for having mental health issues. There’s need to be some changes however I know very little about the mental health issue in Vietnam, I’ve just got here 5 days ago. Without expert help, that would be a terrible thing for both young people and the elderly. Because I’ve just turned 76 and I first started to help in treatment of 65, which was incredibly old.

Tran Ngoc Anh (Hanoi): For the suicide of teenagers, do you think that somehow it is caused by psychological age?

Mrs. Dukakis: Frankly, I’m not sure, I think it is a combination things. I’m not a doctor.

In my own experience, I’ve never attempted suicide. That is one fortunate thing. But I was very sick; I could not do my social work because of my disease until I was able to talk to others about how positively I’ve been treated and that made a huge difference in my life.

You have convinced me that a lot of work needs to be done here in terms of finding a way and it’s one of the things I will talk tomorrow publicly in a university about mental health.

Le Thi Thuy Hang (Hung Yen): In Vietnam, out every 12 people, one person gets stress. What about the U.S?

Mrs. Dukakis: I’m not sure, I don’t really know but it’s huge. There are a large number of people getting stress. It is an issue of mental health. Michael has talked about it. He talked about our neighbors. We have two wonderful new neighbors. Both of them are born in America, one of them has South Korean parents and the other has Vietnamese ones. They are both doctors. You can’t imagine how excited they were when they know we are going to Vietnam; they may have not been here. They have two and a half years old twin daughters, who are like grandchildren to me.

I have 8, these are two more because I see them all the time, I can hear their little voice “Kitty! Kitty”-- calling me in the backyard to come outside.

There will be a lot of work has to be done here. I would like to talk with doctors and social workers who can make difference in terms of helping and programs of treatment.

Phan Ngoc Mai (Ha Tinh): In the U.S, what does the society do to help the ones who get stress and depression?

Mrs. Dukakis: I think what happens is you get help from variety people that can indicate to you this treatment can change your life as it did to mine and has done to thousands of other people.

If there are no psychiatrists trained with ECT, something has to have happened with doctors taking over. There must be a lot of work to do in Vietnam.

Le Thu Thuy (Ha Nam): You used to suffer from alcoholism and depression for 12 years. Why?

Mrs. Dukakis: A lot of people like me, who have depression, turn to alcohol to try an escape.

Thai Viet Hung (Hoang Mai, Hanoi): You have battled with alcoholism and major depression in 20 years. It is not easy. What were your motivations?

Mrs. Dukakis: I knew that I was not able to continue some of the work I want to do unless I got help myself and so I went to husband to talk about ways I can do it. My father said to me “How could you be an alcoholic. You are a woman and Jewish”. I said to my dad: “You have to come to a meeting with me and learn first-hand the privilege I have of being part of alcoholism anonymous because they help, they are a worldwide community.

I have a niece who got help ten years ago and the place I was able to help her was about threaten to close. I was California and she was in Massachusetts, we were able to get the nursing community, medical community involved and they saved to program but it was incredibly important for us to speak out. My niece was an extraordinary example, she has 3 children and she has helped her children as well. She herself is a leader to help the others. Many times, in the community meetings of alcoholism, the members began to talk about their depression and that's part of their lives and they need help. People like me and my niece will do everything possible to help them. And that is what we have always done in the U.S.

Nguyen Van Ha (HCM City): As a famous person, what did you think when you revealed your problem publicly? Weren’t you afraid that your reputation would be affected?

Mrs. Dukakis: I knew I could make the difference in the lives of other people if I spoke truthfully about myself and my own disease because I am well-known in Massachusetts and the U.S; then people will begin to listen. There is still a stigma against ECT, against people who have this treatment. I am trying very hard so others can get the help.

VietNamNet
alcoholism, Katharine Dukakis, vietnam, anti-war
 
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