Recently, we have been bombarded with the media’s coverage of Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk’s battle with depression. (First of all, we want to commend the DA for her courage in sharing her diagnosis. And, moreover, extend our well wishes and encouragement to her in going forward with her treatment.)
However, we are a bit taken back by the response of her colleagues and some in the community. Some have even called for her resignation and others have petitioned signatures to have her removed from office. These actions taken, in our opinion, are harsh and seem to lawfully carry no weight in light of the illness’ protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nor, are their harsh actions unrecognized or unchallenged by her committed backing of the National Mental Health Association.
As we know, Susan Hawk is more than capable of successfully executing her duties of the position in which she has been elected to carry out. We know this because she has successfully tried cases as an attorney, and has successfully sat on the bench as a judge for Dallas County for many years. Yet, when she became brave enough to share an illness that has plagued her since her adolescent years, now…all of a sudden…she is being labeled, belittled and said to be incapable of fulfilling her duties as district attorney.
We ponder, why?, especially, since our very intricately entwined, tightly woven threads of the red, white, and blue boast of a history of a free society, cap-stoned and sealed by the notion of equality, for every citizen. Even the man whom penned the Emancipation Proclamation, and is forever etched in America’s history as the freer of the Africans, made American slaves, is also recorded as being diagnosed with depression, along with many other political officials, past and present.
Recently Patrick Kennedy, heir of our beloved Kennedy clan, has taken heat for the exposure of his family’s history of dysfunction, stemming from the root of mental illness and addiction, in his newly published book, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not only celebrated for his contributions to NASA, science and being the second man to grace the surface of the moon, but he is also recognized for being the former chairman of the National Mental Health Association, after his personal struggle with depression and alcoholism.
Even still, artistic creators of our past and present, such as J.K Rowling, James Baldwin, Beethoven and Hemmingway, have also been recorded as suicidal or manic depression bearers.
To name these few, to hopefully, bring awareness and understanding that there are many among us, past and present, who suffer with mental illness, and those same people have made positive impacts in our society. Even so, we still ponder “why?” the DA’s story has claimed such uproar.
We believe in many cases as a society, we continue to try to shame, or ignore, or to discriminate, or lockup mental illness because we refuse to deal with it. Or even more disgracefully, we label our mental ill in order to limit them, although, our history has proven time and time again an individual who struggles with mental illness can (and has) contributed successfully to our society. So, we answer “why?” the same way society has responded to race, religion, LGBT, gender, etc. Some find it easier to generate labels from ignorance and fear which subsequently cause them to discriminate, hate, or abuse the labeled.
Therefore, the shame lies within the dysfunction of our society, not the disease of mental illness. We offer this for conversation because if the Dallas DA had a diagnosis of a physical aliment, rather than mental, we believe those same colleagues and community petitioners would have rallied behind her, maybe even, coordinated some type of fundraiser to support her during her time of need. Shamefully, instead she is being labeled as weak and incapable.
Certainly, the challenges of dealing with mental illness is tough to bear for the mental ill in their daily lives. But, the public’s misinformation and reaction to those who suffer struggle with mental illness becomes more detrimental to our society when we refuse to deal with it as a whole.
Maybe our refusal to deal with mental illness as a society can lay some claim to the roots stemming from our country’s mass incarceration dilemma. Politicians in Washington, D.C., including Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, believe this to be true, and she has taken action by supporting HR-2646 – the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act sponsored by Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA). This bill would make the necessary criminal justice and healthcare reforms to enable individuals with mental illness to have access to treatment before making the decision to become violent. Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed time and again the cause that warrants the need for this bill. Individuals like Dylann Roof, the Charleston Church shooter, and recently the former Texas Aggies’ football player, Thomas Johnson, who confessed to randomly attacking and killing a jogger in Dallas.
Perhaps our refusal to deal with mental illness can even take most of the blame for our drug infested communities around every corner of this country. Individuals who rely on self-medicating with illegal drugs, more often than not, find themselves in the criminal justice system or homeless, instead of in treatment for their mental illness.
The very shameful core of this is these “individuals” are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers. Should we not as a community begin to help these individuals, and not label them? Regardless of the current laws in place and the legislation in progress deemed to protect the mental ill, we must do our part as a community.
We believe it’s time for all of us to recognize the need to deal with mental illness and move to act in order to create a better, more healthy, society for everyone. So, again we commend the DA, and all others who have shared their struggles and victories in dealing with mental illness. We hope their stories and courage will continue to encourage others with mental illness to get the treatment they need. Mostly, we hope our dysfunctional society heals so that we may learn to embrace everyone, and we may all be encouraged to live to our full, healthy potential.