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Author and social worker Kitty Dukakis, wife of Michael Dukakis, is best known for her activism as well as her struggles with addiction and depression.
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He selected Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate.
On outside, Kitty Dukakis appeared to be vibrant and energetic. A good public speaker, she won over crowds on the campaign trail and lobbied vigorously for important causes as homelessness. Dukakis also had a touch of glamour, always looking well-coifed and stylish wherever she went on the campaign trail.
During the campaign, Kitty Dukakis revealed that she had suffered from a 26-year addiction to diet pills. She had kicked the habit in 1982 after a stay at Hazelden, a treatment center in Minnesota. Some wondered whether her confession may have been politically motivated, perhaps to garner sympathy. Whatever the case, her addiction issues grew worse after her husband lost the election. Instead of pills, Dukakis turned to alcohol. In 1989, she was rushed to a Boston-area emergency room after drinking too much rubbing alcohol. Her 1990 book, Now You Know, revealed the depths to which she sank while struggling with her addiction and depression.
Despite battling her personal demons, Dukakis was still able to make contributions to society. She was appointed to serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1989 and had previously participated in President’s Commission on the Holocaust. Dukakis served on the board of the Refugee Policy Group and the Task Force on Cambodian Children. In the 1990s, she studied to become a social worker and joined the staff at the International Institute of Boston to help immigrants and refugees.
While she worked to help others, Dukakis also struggled with an annual depression for years. During these dark periods, she would retreat from her family and friends. At her wit’s end in 2001, she agreed to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The controversial treatment calls for the patient to receive mild electrical shocks. The process has been refined somewhat since the early days of “shock” treatment with the placement of the electrodes being better designed to minimize possible side effects. There are still concerns over possible brain damage and memory loss.
Despite the apparent hazards, Dukakis has found ECT helpful in treating her chronic depression. She wrote in the Boston Globe in 2006 that the treatment “opened a new reality for me. . . . It had given me a sense of control, of hope.” Dukakis has received several rounds of ECT over the years and wrote about her experiences with the treatment in the 2006 book, Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, written with Larry Tye. In support of the book, she traveled around the country, giving talks, attending events, and doing interviews.
In 2007, the Kitty Dukakis Treatment Center for Women was established in her honor at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. The facility bears her name because of her advocacy work on addiction and mental health.
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