“It’s amazing how one person has the potential to change the direction of another life with a few simple words. The presenter today showed true strength in the light of so many dark events.”
Terry Bentley Hill
That was the reaction of just one of the more than 200 people who attended Abilene’s Day of the Woman event July 18 at the University Church of Christ Activity Center. The Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health hosted the symposium as part of its ongoing effort to encourage and empower women to take control of their unique health care needs.
Terry Bentley Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas, delivered the keynote address, titled “Stop Minding Your Own Business.” Her presentation focused upon mental health and suicide, subjects that have recently produced national headlines.
Bentley Hill, a nationally recognized mental health advocate, dedicates her practice to the mental health and substance abuse issues and seeks solutions for her clients in lieu of incarceration. Removing the stigmas surrounding mental illness and substance abuse became Bentley Hill’s focus when she lost her first husband and her 14-year-old daughter to suicide. After dealing with the cloud of shame and misunderstanding that often accompanies brain diseases, it became her mission to help others suffering from the diseases by sharing her story of pain, healing and recovery.
Pearl Merritt, Ed.D., Abilene regional dean for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Nursing and regional director for Abilene’s Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health office, said the topic also was timely to Abilene because of some recent high profile suicides in the community.
“There is still a stigma with the mental health issues that can lead to suicide, but by having these types of educational opportunities, we are slowly seeing the tide turn,” Merritt said.
Merritt said the societal anxiety and stress levels that have seemed to increase during the last several years produce situations that can devastate the afflicted person’s entire family and circle of friends.
“By recognizing these symptoms in the people close to us, we can encourage them to get help,” Merritt stressed. “That’s why we also handed out a mental health resource guide and included various other resources that our community has to offer. If we can help just one person, then we are having success.”
Merritt said TTUHSC has people whose knowledge and skill can help the community address mental health issues, and it is only fitting for the university to offer those resources to the community. In doing so, she said it allows TTUHSC to give back to the community that given the university so much support.
“TTUHSC and the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health also are fortunate to be able to network with Hendrick Health System,” Merritt added. “Working together means we can combine all of our resources to help others deal with difficult issues.”
Elyse Lewis, director of community outreach for the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health, said the institute and Hendrick Health System will continue working together to improve the community’s understanding of local mental health needs and resources.
“We can think of no better partner than Hendrick, the largest provider of health care for 18 area counties,” Lewis said. “Our partnership with Hendrick Medical Center is a key component of the institue’s success in Abilene.”