June 20, 2016

Susan Hawk needs to resign and Dallas media needs to take notes (updated)

The Dallas County District Attorney's office issued a news release today [in May] that (can't use the "embattled" word) DA Susan Hawk, she of offering Craig Watkins drinks fame, has had a depression "relapse" which is how the Dallas Morning News, and other Metromess mainstream media all ran it.

(Update, June 20: Hawk is now seeking her 3rd depression treatment just 10 days after realease from 2nd; Morning News still not asking tough questions. [see below.])

Update, Aug. 11: Hawk is back on the job. Unfortunately, the News isn't digging deeper. More unfortunately, Jim Schuetze at the Observer hasn't done much digging yet.)

There are several problems with this reportage, all of which I'm going to unpack, in more detail than I have already done on Twitter on Friday.

1. One does not "relapse" on mental illness, unlike addiction, at least not that I've ever heard. Indeed, before Friday, I'd never even heard the word "relapse used in the same sentence with any mental illness, whether depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or something else. I'm not a psychological expert, but I'm at least as knowledgeable about this as the average intelligent layperson — or the average intelligent journalist or broadcaster.

That said, Google Ngram ... which only covers books scanned into Google Books, and not newspapers, magazines, etc., with a smoothing of "one," says "depression relapse" surpassed "addiction relapse" about 15 years ago. However, "drug relapse" is still far ahead. And one other phrase with "relapse" is double that. More on that in a minute. (Sum the two up, and they have a five-to-one edge over "depression relapse."

1A. Use of "relapse" with mental illness could be stigmatizing, primarily because of the normal use of the word relapse in the field of psychology, which is going to lead in to something else just below.

2. Dallas County DA's office should know this. Indeed, I suspect it DOES know this, and I kind of wonder if Hawk's friend/enabler/something else? (as I hinted in the past on Twitter, speaking of) Mari Woodlief was behind the exact language of the presser.

2A. And, per point 1A in particular and all of the above, the use of "relapse" should raise the issue of whether Dallas County DA's office is trying to conflate this with an actual relapse of her drug addiction. Apparently, as of Friday afternoon, this possibility had not actually raised that issue among Dallas-area mainstream media.

3. Use of the word "treatment," also used in the news release by the DA's office, raises similar normal usage issues and other caveats. Again, I personally have never heard "treatment" used with depression, but I've quite regularly heard it used with addiction. I suppose it's possible; it's not grammatically incorrect, but, it's certainly not normal usage, is it?

4. I also know, contra that news release, that "attention deficit disorder" is NOT mental illness and that one does not usually get "treatment" for it.

5. The media are not required to use government, or private business, press releases verbatim. ALL Dallas media, not just the Morning News, where I first saw this, who used the word "relapse," or "treatment," other than citing the presser as a direct quote, should be ashamed of themselves for the constellation of reasons above.

5. This would of course be true in general of a good journalistic practice. In the case at hand, given that at least some staff of the DA's office have been enablers of her in the past, and also apparently in the past month leading up to what may be an actual relapse, Dallas-area media had a positive duty to be thoroughly skeptical of that press release, and they all appeared to have failed. (Well, I haven't read the Observer yet; maybe it didn't fail.)

6. Dallas media, starting with the News, has heretofore still not looked at the possible sidebar issue of alcoholism. Given that other than the almost totally physiological addiction to nicotine, alcoholism is America's primary addiction problem, the media in general should always be thinking alcohol in the back of their minds when reporting on drug addiction problems of public figures. (I've also hinted at this on Twitter.)

As for her office making this announcement? It's not really transparency, it's being backed into a corner. And, they can say the treatment is for depression, and due to HIPAA, Menninger won't say anything additional itself. (For those wondering, Menninger offers inpatient drug and alcohol treatment as part of inpatient psychological counseling and related services.)

Were I a betting man, I'd give even odds Hawk has an alcohol problem. If she does, I'd give more than even odds that her enablers as well as her are in deep denial about this. I'd give even odds that this is where her crack about Watkins came from, and that she was engaging in a bit of psychological "projection."

With all of that in mind, yes, Hawk needs to resign. If she, her staff and her enablers can't be honest and forthcoming with the public, she's lost the public trust and the right to be the county's top legal representative. And, if they can't tell her to resign, the staff in the DA's office, even with Hawk's recorded history of vindictiveness, either should resign themselves to escape a bad job, or else resign if they won't stop being her enablers. Given that Hawk and Woodlief, and any other enablers from two years ago now working in the DA's office lied about her addiction to scrips, can they be any more trusted now?

And, if I'm barking up the right tree, or even close, no, this isn't being harsh on her as a person.

Finally, in all of this, there's more than a whiff, there's a stench, of income inequality. Even if it is just depression, inpatient hospitalization for depression is FAR beyond the reach of the average American's insurance. So is time off from a job that would be only unpaid — if allowed at all.

So, in the case of Hawk, is this time off unpaid? Paid? (That's not counting how often she's missed work.)

Dear Morning News: There's multiple stories for you to write, right there.


3 comments:

cactusflinthead said...

None of which the Snooze will write. There is a good chance that Jim S over at the Observer will at some point in between stories about that stupid tollway.

Constantine said...

" 3. Use of the word "treatment," also used in the news release by the DA's office, raises similar normal usage issues and other caveats. Again, I personally have never heard "treatment" used with depression, but I've quite regularly heard it used with addiction. I suppose it's possible; it's not grammatically incorrect, but, it's certainly not normal usage, is it?"

I've heard (and used as a self-description) relapse on depression, but fairly rarely. With treatment, though, I'm honestly shocked that you hadn't heard treatment and depression used in the same situation. Perhaps this is a regional thing, but to me, "Seeking treatment" or "Undergoing treatment" is a totally normal usage of the word. In my experience, any mental illness or disorder is something one would describe oneself as getting treatment for - Depression, anxiety, whatever. The difference might be class, region, or something else. But I can honestly say I'm surprised that that struck you as weird.

With the word 'Relapse,' it's a bit of an odd usage. Not that I wouldn't hear someone say that they're relapsing. I hear people who are depressed use that frequently. Just that I've never heard that in a press release, as it's much more of a casual thing than a formal thing. On the other hand, if she was communicating to someone she knows personally, she might have used a casual term and the person she spoke to just repeated it.


4. I also know, contra that news release, that "attention deficit disorder" is NOT mental illness and that one does not usually get "treatment" for it.

I think that perhaps you're working with outdated information. I can tell you at the very least that my therapist considers it a mental illness. And I would describe myself to be getting 'treatemnt' for it, amongst other things. Indeed, my doctor has mentioned that she frequently has difficulty getting her patients or others to understand the fact that it is a mental illness, and that it shouldn't be treated as some minor thing.

Gadfly said...

Constantine, you may be right on the language updates. That said, the main issue remains, doe she still have a problem with addiction to meds, and does she even have a possible alcohol problem behind that? If either is true, 10 rounds of depression treatment be themselves won't fully work.

And, that adds to the public service angle and calls for resignation.