School faculty and staff participated in a Mental Health Awareness Symposium sponsored by the Texas Exes Dallas Chapter on April 18th in Dallas.

The symposium resulted from the initiative of the Texas Exes Dallas Chapter Legacy Group, which encourages university alumni who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin 20 or more years ago to become active in the Chapter.

In 2012, after two prominent women in Dallas committed suicide within months of each other, Legacy Group members began discussing how mental health illnesses had touched, in greater or lesser degree, the lives of many of them. Out of these conversations emerged the idea of a symposium where members of the community could hear from and ask questions to mental health experts and service providers.

Laura Wells, Director of Development at the School of Social Work, helped with the organization of the symposium, and secured the participation of Dr. Cynthia Franklin, the Stiernberg/Spencer Family Professor in Mental Health, and Coordinator of the clinical concentration of the Master’s Program.

“Regrettably, unrecognized and untreated mental illness is common in our country,” said Dr. Franklin. “Events like this symposium are very important to increase public understanding of these illnesses, of the value of seeking early treatment, and of the clinical help that social workers can provide.”

At the symposium, Dr. Franklin gave an overview of the symptoms of several common mental illnesses, and shared stories from her own clinical experience in order to illustrate the everyday nature of these illnesses and the possibilities of managing them with treatment.

Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Connie Wilson, the Director of Psychological and Social Services from the Dallas Independent School District; and Missy Wall, the Director of Teen CONTACT Program.

In addition, the Legacy Group Vice Chairman, John Donovan, and his daughter, Hollyn Donovan, spoke about their experiences as a family with Hollyn’s mental illnesses. Hollyn has suffered from depression and anxiety, and has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“It was very inspiring for all participants to learn that Hollyn has been a leading volunteer at Contact Crisis Line in Dallas, and that she will be starting college in the fall,” said Laura Wells. “And it is very special for us that she will be studying social work in the pursuit of a career in public advocacy for mental health awareness and policy.”