BOSTON (CBS) – Patrick Kennedy, one of the nation’s leading advocates for better treatment of the mentally ill, was in Boston Thursday, sharing his own struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction.

“I’ve been struggling, I’ve been an addict my whole life since I was a teenager, in and out of rehab,” Kennedy said at a meeting of the Massachusetts Health Council.

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“He’s been able to overcome that,” said Susan Servais of the Massachusetts Health Council, “and that is something we want folks to know, you should be proud of that, and you can do it too.”

In an interview with WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller, Kennedy acknowledged it took the death of his father, Senator Ted Kennedy, to jump-start his recovery process.

“At my dad’s final days what mattered most to him was being around his best friends and his family members,” Kennedy said. “And I realized I had neither in terms of the intimacy in my life of people that were kind of there for me in the way many were there for my dad.”

So Kennedy left congress three years ago to work full-time on de-stigmatizing mental illness, and fighting policies he says could worsen the problem, like marijuana decriminalization.

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“Can you believe that we have a public health crisis in this commonwealth around OxyContin and heroin now and we’re gonna add fuel to the fire by legalizing a third drug? I don’t think it’s a smart move,” said Kennedy.

Atop his priority list now is his wife Amy, and their three young children.

“I get on my knees every morning I thank God for the opportunity to have a healthy family and the opportunity to live another day,” Kennedy said. “It just couldn’t be better.”

Kennedy has co-founded two non-profits, one promoting better education about and funding for mental health, another battling the marijuana legalization movement. And alongside his work and his family, Kennedy ranks another accomplishment among his proudest achievements – three years of sobriety.

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