By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor
Dallas District Attorney Susan Hawk hopes to be a messenger of hope for those suffering from depression and feeling hopeless. By coming forward, it is her desire to shed light on a serious illness that still carries a stigma of shame. Hawk also wants to raise awareness about the gap in opportunities for help for others who need assistance and lack access to resources she is blessed to enjoy.
“That is why I told my story, I know there are folks who are feeling hopeless and they think no one else cares,” Hawk shared during an interview with the North Dallas Gazette on Monday, Oct. 12. Diagnosed with a major depressive disorder she spent two months in a clinic receiving intense treatment. Currently Hawk is still seeing a therapist twice a week, and takes medication. She predicts the medicine will be lifelong and therapy once a week for some time to come.
Hawk bluntly said, “If I had waited one more week, I would not be here right now. That is the spot I was in.” She acknowledged that there was something wrong for a while but, “I was not really ready to admit my illness.”
“I know what it is like to be in a black hole and want to die. You feel it, you know it and you have a plan. I wanted to die,” Hawk felt the pain so deeply that she reached a point that, “The idea of dying was soothing and solution for me.” Primarily because she did not want to hurt anymore.”
But assistance has made a big difference, “Now I have a life worth living; I have done a lot of work. I am committed to this,” Hawk shared. She wants others in pain to know, “this is something you can get to the other side of.”
As a judge Hawk did include a mental health program as a part of an effort to help those who appeared before her bench. But the fact remains there is a hole in the system, because not everyone can afford, “the costly clinic I went to. I am the first to step up and recognize I was so blessed.” During her absence Hawk spent 5-7 hours a day participating in group and individual therapy.
Hawk challenges the community to not forget those who do not have access to similar resources. “What are we doing to help them as a society? What can we do better. What programs are available to pull all of our resources together to educate people?”
While there are many calls for Hawk to step down, she has no intention of resigning. On Tuesday former administrative chief Cindy Stormer filed a petition seeking to have Hawk removed on the grounds she is incompetent and has committed misconduct. Stormer, who was fired last month, accused Hawk of “escalating mental illness and incompetence,” and prescription drug abuse. Stormer is requesting to have Hawk removed from office pending trial.
Even before the petition was filed, Hawk was very clear: she is not resigning. First, because she does not believe her condition will have any long lasting negative impact on her ability to do her job. If she thought it would, Hawk stated, she would be the first to step down.
Second, she believes this experience will actually provide additional insights on how to effectively do her job. After seeing discrimination in action, “I have a different perspective,” Hawk said, “this makes me even more qualified to serve the people of Dallas County.” She will apply lessons learned from her experience when dealing with others and raise the bar on awareness for treating offenders with mental illness fairly. Reportedly, up to 30 percent of those in the system are suffering from some form of mental illness.
“It does not change my vision of this office, we prosecute individuals and that is our top priority,” Hawk emphasized, But her staff also must have an awareness for helping people as well, because that is also a valuable crime prevention tool. Helping an offender get needed assistance can shut the revolving door for repeat offenders.
Hawk questions what kind of message does suggesting she is unfit send to others suffering from mental health conditions.
“You are not allowed to do your job because you were diagnosed? If this was cancer would they call for me to step down from my job?” She points out such a suggestion likely would leave others feeling afraid to even ask for help.
“My business is out there for everyone,” Hawk points out, “if it helps one person then that is the reason I am telling my story.”
She closed by sharing, “I love this job and I believe in this job and I know we can bring about real positive change.”