Dallas Democrats Are Wrong to Criticize DA Hawk For Mental Health Treatment

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Former-Editor note: Just because I moved on from BOR doesn’t mean I gave up on having opinions!

The Dallas County Democratic Party has called for the resignation of District Attorney Susan Hawk, a Republican, over her recent revelations that she is battling depression and recently threatened to kill herself.

These attacks are wrong, they are shameful, and they have no place coming from the Democratic Party.

Getting professional help for mental health issues is difficult, particularly for those in the public eye. She should not be shamed for it. Far too many people go without mental health support for fear of this exact kind of response.

My biggest concern here actually isn’t with Hawk’s job performance — it’s with the message this sends to people dealing with mental health issues, and people who love people with mental health issues.

The message is that you’re incapable of performing your job and should be publicly shamed for seeking help. That’s problematic, and it’s not something the Democratic Party should be part of, period. Having access to mental health benefits included in the Affordable Care Act was a huge victory for Democrats — shaming people for using mental health benefits isn’t.

I’m willing to stipulate that DA Hawks is bad at her job, and should not be DA for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with her mental health.

That doesn’t mean attacking her for treatment for depression and purported suicide threats suddenly becomes fair game. If she was gone from the office for cancer treatment or maternity leave, might folks tread more carefully? What other public medical conditions come with a heaping pile of public shame?

There are plenty of beloved Democratic elected officials past and present who have struggled with mental health issues, and if this kind of attack was made on them by Republicans we’d be outraged. It doesn’t magically become Ok when the fingers point the other way.

If her issues prevent her from carrying out the duties of her office and her employees are unable to function in her absence, that’s a legitimate question, but there are better ways to address that problem than to call publicly for the resignation of an official over her mental health problems.

Process-wise, if a District Attorney resigns, our Republican governor is just going to appoint another Republican replacement that Democrats will try to oust in 2018 with a candidate of our own who is hopefully more enthusiastic about running for the office. And if this whole brou-ha-ha is a sad remnant of losing this one office in 2014, take heed, DCDP — our candidate did that to himself, and y’all won every other countywide on the ballot. Y’all should know to avoid cheap shots about candidates’ personal struggles.

I’ll note that DCDP is not the only organization to make the suggestion that Hawk’s mental health issues make her unfit to serve, and I’m duly disappointed in every other group that has done so as well. It’s cheap — and worst of all, it’s lazy.

To be clear, there are plenty of substantive policy issues over which the Dallas Democratic Party can engage District Attorney Hawk — many of which even concern broader access to mental health care.

  • Our jail system has become a warehouse of people with mental health issues. What resources are available to prisoners, and do they have equal access to rigorous in-patient treatments?
  • Why do Republicans repeatedly vote to block access to mental healthcare?
  • Are the workplace leave policies that allowed DA Hawk to seek treatment available to all public employees in Texas? How about all private employees? Why or why not?

To be clear, I support DA Hawk’s right to seek treatment, and to leave her job temporarily to do so (particularly if administrative functions can be maintained) — just as I do for every single American. Because I’m one of those Americans — I, like tens of millions of Americans, have sought help for mental health issues. It has helped me tremendously, and I encourage everyone to talk to someone if they’re having a hard time.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking help. But there is something really wrong with attacking people who do.

If you need someone to talk to — or know someone else who does — here are some resources of which you can take advantage.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime, 24/7. The world is better with you in it! Please call.

Texas Suicide Hotlines — there are a number of hotlines by city available here. Many have toll-free numbers. Just call. It’s totally fine just to call.

UT Students — Enrolled students can access several visits at the and can enroll in the Continuing Care program. There are also semester-long support groups. Call and see if spaces are available. The crisis hotline is 512-471-CALL, and the number to schedule an appointment is (512) 471-3515. They’re great. Concerned about another student? Call 512-232-5050 any time, 24 hours a day. Please take a moment to help your friend.

Beyond hotlines, there are many resources available for people to access ongoing care, from Community Clinics to sliding scale fees. There are options available, so please seek them out, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one. And if you’re close to someone who has mental health issues, consider seeking out support for yourself as well. <3 And seriously, there’s nothing unusual about mental health issues — 20-million-some Americans report dealing with mental health each year. What matters is taking that first step to get the support you deserve.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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