Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy left office years ago to focus on battling a drug addiction and bipolar disorder. Now, after his relative Saoirse Kennedy Hill died this week, he's praising her for having written about her depression a few years ago.
Saoirse Kennedy Hill, a 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died after being found unresponsive Thursday at the Kennedy family compound on Massachusetts' Cape Cod. Officials haven't declared the cause or manner of death; an autopsy revealed no relevant trauma, and a toxicology report is pending, officials say.
Patrick Kennedy, a cousin of Saorise's mother Courtney Kennedy Hill, saluted Saoirse on social media and in a TV interview Friday for addressing her mental health struggles publicly in 2016.
"She opened the door for her peers to also come out and not be shamed by this illness, and she's a real hero in my family," he told NBC News. "She broke the silence.
"And we mourn her loss, but her memory will live on as someone who wasn't going to keep silent and wasn't going to be feeling as if she had something shameful but rather something medical that she sought treatment for."
In high school, she'd written about battling depression
Patrick Kennedy, son of the late US Sen. Ted Kennedy, represented a Rhode Island district for eight terms in Congress and has advocated for changes to mental health care since leaving office in 2011.
On Friday, he urged people to read Saoirse Kennedy Hill's own account of her battle with depression, which she wrote in 2016 as a senior at the Deerfield Academy, a Massachusetts college-preparatory school.
In that column for her student newspaper, Kennedy Hill wrote that her depression "took root in the beginning of my middle school years and will be with me for the rest of my life."
"Although I was mostly a happy child, I suffered bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on my chest," she wrote.
The column focused on her return to school for her senior year after she took medical leave for treatment. She lamented that federal privacy law seemed to prevent her teachers and advisers from knowing what she was going through, and she asserted that the school could be better prepared to talk about mental illness.
She went on to Boston College, where she studied communications and was due to graduate next year.
'We must come out of the shadows,' Patrick Kennedy says
Patrick Kennedy tweeted Friday that "Saoirse's sincere account of her depression is a powerful reminder of how so many people suffer alone and feel isolated."
"I am proud Saoirse was able to be open and tell her story. I encourage everyone to read her words," he tweeted.
"Feel what she felt. Do whatever you can from your position in life to stop the isolation, the stigma, and the devastating lack of acknowledgement that often leads to tragedy. Families across the nation, including ours, are suffering. We must come out of the shadows."
Patrick Kennedy co-authored a 2015 book, called "A Common Struggle," about his struggle with mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.
CNN's Kristina Sgueglia and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.