"My dad said, 'we had this great political capital, your uncles, you know, fought for it...and it should be used for something positive,'" Kennedy said.
While serving in the House, he focused much of his energy on mental health, an issue that hit very close to home for him as former alcohol and drug addict who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"Whether it's cocaine or it's alcohol, or it's opiates," he said, "those are irrelevant to the fact that you've got a neurological brain disorder that compels you, both environmental and physical, to self-medicate to deal with your pain."
After crashing his Ford Mustang convertible on Capitol Hill in 2006, Kennedy checked into rehab to be treated for an addiction to pain medication. Those years, he said, were "humiliating."
Kennedy wouldn't directly comment on if he was out of politics for good, but did say he can do more work with his continued involvement with getting funding for brain research.
In the wake of Tucson, Kennedy said Jared Loughner has been characterized as a "deranged" lone gunman with "serious mental health issues." He said this incident should split open the "third-rail issues" of gun control and personal freedoms of those who have mental health problems.
"We've got to come together," he said. "It's going to involve a solution that deals with both the individuals and their suffering and mental health and the notion of freedom and whether we're going to intervene when we know people need help."