Chief Patrick Kenny - A Father's Perspective

When Fire Chief Patrick Kenny’s son died by suicide after a lifelong battle with mental illness, Chief Kenny dedicated himself to helping others understand the importance of mental health and sharing the lessons he learned parenting and loving his son Sean.

 

A popular speaker, Chief Kenny has presented and written articles on mental health, leadership, fire safety and fire code challenges. Patrick J. Kenny has been a member of the fire service for 38 years, a chief officer for more than 20 years, and currently serves as the Fire Chief in Western Springs, IL.  In 2004, he was awarded Fire Chief of the Year by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association.

Following is an excerpt from Chief Kenny's first book debuting in November 2020 Taking The Cape Off:  A Personal Guide on How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss.

LESSONS LEARNED by Chief Patrick Kenny

  • Mental illness does not discriminate. Your family or children are not immune to mental illness.

  • Believe your children are in pain, not just looking for attention.

  • They can't "tough out" mental illness; it must be treated.

  • Mental Illness is a physical illness. Realize and accept that those who suffer from mental illness are wonderful people who have a physical illness that needs treatment.

  • Mental illness can be terminal.

  • Self-medication is a common by-product for those trying to alleviate their pain, especially if they are hesitant to share their problems or if recognized methods do not work.

  • Pick your battles. As a parent of a child with mental illness, know what hills to die on. There are so many challenges that sometimes you have to allow things you never dreamed would be acceptable, and that is okay.

  • You may have to make tough decisions. You may have to make the ultimate decision that your child is not welcome in your home anymore if the behavior they are exhibiting is self-destructive or harmful to the family.

  • It is key to always reinforce that they are loved. The door remains open, and they are welcomed back if you can agree on what the boundaries are and a plan to attack the disease.

  • It's a marathon, not a sprint. There is no magic pill to cure mental illness. To keep your child alive, you must commit to the marathon. You can't eradicate the illness in a sprint.

  • Make time for other family members. In the middle of the battle, don't forget that others are affected, too, and they may go off your radar. They could be other family members or co-workers. Schedule one-on-one time with them however you can.

  • Each of you must make time for your significant other. Your mate may get lost in your quest to fix the problem. Keep your relationship as a couple front and center at all times to keep you both refueled and connected.

  • Share your journey with co-workers. You as a parent can be a role model for how to handle mental illness, showing by your words and actions that it is nothing to be ashamed of. This may encourage others to come forward for help. Also, it can be a resource for your family.

  • Look beyond the surface. People dealing with mental illness do things you may see as choices (e.g., staying in bed, absenteeism), which instead may be symptoms of disease.

  • If at first you don’t succeed try try again. Like looking for anything your first stop may be a dud. If the first counselor does not make a connection then try another and another. Warn your child ahead of time that may happen and DOES NOT mean the help isn’t necessary and won’t work its just not a fit. Try to find a counselor who specializes in teens.

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