A PR No-No

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk has been a fireball of controversy even before taking office.

This week that fireball grew even bigger. Hawk was last seen around the courthouse in early August and missed several high-profile appearances.

Some people in Dallas politics are questioning whether she is capable to continue in her position after she lied about taking a month off for back surgery in the fall of 2013. Hawks later admitted, only after taking office this past January, she attended a drug treatment facility for prescription drug use.

More than three weeks later – she issued a statement on her Facebook page stating she is battling a serious case of depression. The Family Medical Leave Act allows Hawks to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave I applaud her for seeking treatment for her mental illness.

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk's statement regarding her absence from her job. (Photo courtesy of Susan Hawk's FB page)

Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk’s statement regarding her absence from her job. (Photo courtesy of Susan Hawk’s FB page)

The way her office handled this incident is listed in any public relations textbook as an example of what NOT to do. Many politicians wrongly see media as the enemy.  That’s their first mistake. As a former reporter, I always sought to tell my audience the truth. The public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing on their behalf. Politicians sometimes forget that Americans tend to be very forgiving. The American public realizes people have illnesses or make mistakes because we know we are infallible ourselves. It’s just as your momma used to tell you – it’s not good to lie, it always catches up with you. Hawks’ sudden leave of absence would have been much better received if she and her office had been up front to acknowledge she needed to take some time to work on herself. Many would have been it as an act of bravery to admit her illness. Admitting her need for treatment would have also humanized her, when so often she’s been seen as cold and distant.

I hope Hawks’ admission regarding her depression will give other people the courage to seek treatment.  Depression affects nearly 16 million of American people annually, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Often times it is taboo to speak about mental illness.  I also hope it will make society understand people from a vast range of ages, genders and occupations struggle with some form of mental illness.