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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk: ‘I Regret That People Felt Lied To'

Krystina Martinez

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk is finishing her first full week back at work after spending more than two months in a residential treatment center in Houston.

She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. She talks about the lessons she's learned, the folks she's fired and how she hopes to earn the trust of people who feel lied to.

Interview Highlights: Susan Hawk…

…On her treatment:

“It was nine weeks of five to six hours of groups and one-on-one psychotherapy – that’s about as intense as it gets – every single day. They want you to have leisure time and have time for yourself. You know, go to the gym, eat three meals a day, get eight hours of sleep, take care of yourself. These seem like basic things, but when you’re in a deep state of depression, those things don’t matter to you.”

...On comments by a former staffer, Jennifer Balido, who said, "I don't even think Susan understands how severe her own mental illness is at this point. This is not something where you can go to treatment and come back and think everything is hunky dory":

“I think that you talk to any renowned psychiatrist, anyone who treats mental illness, knows that you can suffer from major depressive disorder and still be very successful. Some of the greatest leaders were diagnosed with depression – Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln – and to say they weren’t successful because they had depression, or to think that things are ‘hunky dory,' that shows you there’s still such a stigma against mental illness. If I had cancer, would [fired prosecutor Jennifer Balido] say the same thing? If I had diabetes, if I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but I was capable of working, would the same thing be said? I think that’s unfortunate.

"I’ll tell you, I love this job so much. I care about the courthouse, the criminal justice system, I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to this. If there was a second or a moment that I felt like I was not capable of doing this job, I would step down.”

…On the high-level aides she fired or asked to leave this year:

“There was a total of five people who lost their jobs or resigned, and we have over 400 employees that work here [at the District Attorney’s office]. Those individuals that did resign after I spoke to them, I have no regrets about that. I’ve gone back and re-evaluated every one of the firings. [Investigator Jeff Savage] was the only one that I did regret, the delivery of how that was handled, but he also apologized to me. I thought, ‘well, I get a second chance,’ so I gave him a second chance and the opportunity.” 

…On what she’s learned about the stigma of mental illness:

“I learned that people don’t seem to treat it like a real illness, but at the same time, it’s a disease. I understand that this is an illness I’ll have to treat for the rest of my life, but it doesn’t mean that it’s an ‘either or’ situation. I can still be successful and be the best district attorney that I can be, do all the great things that I set out to do, and be diagnosed with depression.” 

…On whether she regrets running for district attorney:

“I wouldn’t change anything [about running]. The only thing I regret is people feeling like they were misled or lied to. That’s the one thing I regret. ... I was extremely successful as a judge and as a prosecutor, so I know what I’m capable of doing. If I didn’t think I could do it, I would step down.”  


KERA's Friday Conversation with Susan Hawk shortly after she was elected district attorney in Dallas County

Think: Depression In The Workplace: The Aug. 31 episode of KERA's Think discusses how depression is diagnosed and treated, as well as the challenges of returning to the job after treatment.

KERA’s Erasing the Stigma Forum: In 2013, KERA organized a forum of panelists discussing mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it. You can also listen to stories from the series here

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.