Just as President Kennedy rallied the nation to dream big and set audacious goals 50 years ago, The Kennedy Forum in Illinois is working toward lasting change in the way mental health and addictions are considered and treated.

The Kennedy Forum was launched by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. After authoring the federal Parity Law and motivated by his personal struggles, Mr. Kennedy issued a call to action to reform the broken mental health and substance use treatment system. A contingent of Illinois leaders attended the event, including our Illinois Founder, Peter O’Brien. Motivated by his personal story and inspired by the potential to unite diverse stakeholders, he returned to Illinois determined to bring this powerful organizing model to bear in our state. The result is a powerful platform for change.


A future where all persons are treated with dignity and receive the person-centered mental and physical care and support they need to thrive and achieve their goals; with a health system that fully recognizes that the brain is part of the body.


End stigma and discrimination against people with mental health and addiction challenges. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the system.


Since our official launch in 2014, The Kennedy Forum Illinois has conducted extensive outreach via public forums, workgroup convenings, community conversations, and partnerships. Through a constituency of more than 3,000 key stakeholders in mental health and addiction, we are able to reach more than 2 million Illinoisans. 

Key accomplishments include:

  • Led the effort to pass the strongest state parity law in the country—a foundational step in ending structural stigma and discrimination against those living with mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Hosted five annual convenings, successfully engaging over 4,500 people representing advocacy, government, philanthropy, and private sector.
  • Engaged more than 10,000 people in stigma-busting conversations through On the Table—a program developed in collaboration with Chicago Community Trust.
  • Trained over 3,500 Chicagoans in mental health awareness or Mental Health First Aid, and how to access community resources and Crisis Intervention Team-trained police.
  • Trained over 5,000 individuals in the workplace in strategies to manage stress, isolation, and anxiety.
  • Created the IL Parity Implementation Coalition, a group of 25+ organizations working together to advance implementation of parity laws.
  • Published an Issue Brief documenting the challenges that mental health and addiction treatment providers face in securing reimbursement, leading to hearings in the Illinois General Assembly to improve parity compliance.