mental health

Dallas Attorney's Mission to Save Lives After Losing Husband, Daughter to Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Terry Bentley Hill is making sure awareness never stops.

Terry Bentley Hill

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in many age groups, ranking as high as cancer or heart disease. But it only gets half the attention.

While National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month comes to a close this week, a Dallas attorney wants to make sure awareness lasts year round.

“It's so important to talk about this,” said Terry Bentley Hill. “Suicide is the most preventable death there is.”

Terry Bentley Hill, a Dallas attorney, lost her husband to suicide in 1995. Then just nine years later in 2004, she experienced the pain of suicide all over again with the loss of her 14-year-old daughter, Hallie. Hill is sharing her story for National Suicide Prevention Month.

To watch our full conversation, click the video player above.

Hill has turned her pain into purpose.

In 1995, she lost her former husband to suicide.

“For the first 11 years of my marriage with my husband, he telegraphed his depression, he telegraphed his suicidal ideation. But because I didn't speak the language of depression, I missed it,” she said. “I didn't know. So what I have learned in the last 27 years is to recognize the symptoms of depression. They're often they're often verbal cues, and they're also behavioral cues.”

Terry Bentley Hill

At the time, he was a high-profile public official as a district attorney and the attention it put on Hill and her daughters during their time of grieving was difficult.

“He was a very good attorney. But he put a lot of pressure on himself. And when he felt like he was letting people down, he took it to heart,” she said. “The night that he died, the news media going live from our front yard, so I had no place to hide.”

She moved to Dallas with their four daughters to be closer to family. Then 9 years later, suicide struck Hill’s family again.

Her 14 year old daughter, Hallie, also took her life after suffering from the depression.

“The single most difficult thing in life, I think, is to lose a child. And then to lose one by suicide is even worse,” she said.

Hill learned depression and suicidal ideation can be biological.

“If you're already predisposed to any kind of mental health condition – whether it's depression, bipolar disorder, whatever the case may be –  then on top of that, you have a situation in your life or an environmental element in your life that causes incredible stress and anxiety. Untreated anxiety will oftentimes manifest into depression,” she said. “When a parent dies by suicide, the odds of a child dying by suicide increases dramatically. Oftentimes, because a door has been opened for that child to walk through that maybe they would not walk through otherwise.”

Terry Bentley Hill
Bentley Hill and her daughter, Hallie.

She has made her lifelong mission to urge families – especially in the age of social media and smartphones – to connect with their children and each other.

"Think about now adding social media – the mobile phone, the computer, instant access to one another, instant anonymity to be mean to one another. And what that is like for kids today, it has exacerbated the normal adolescent experience, just off the chart,” Hill said. “So that is why we're seeing an increase in suicides in kids – the age of 10 all the way up to 25 – it's almost the number one killer suicide is for that age group. And so it's it has to be addressed."

In teens, signs of suicidal ideation can include the following:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members.
  • Acting-out behaviors and running away.
  • Alcohol and drug use.
  • Neglecting one's personal appearance.
  • Unnecessary risk-taking.
  • Obsession with death and dying.

General warning signs in adults can include:

  • Talking or making threats about suicide
  • Previous attempts at suicide
  • Statements revealing desire to die
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Self-loathing or self-destructive behavior
  • Anxiety, low mood, withdrawal or hopelessness
  • Making final arrangements, giving away possessions
  • Purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills​

Hill created an awareness campaign called “Stop Minding Your Own Business” and travels the country to continue sharing her story.

“What I have learned is by telling our story, it can be the key that unlocked someone else's hell,” she said.

Local hospitals have also reported suicide attempts have skyrocketed in youth during the pandemic. Even now, Parkland reports approximately 2% to 3% of youth patients screen positive for suicide risk in their community clinics. Just one child is too many.

"Don't be afraid to discuss this with your child. In fact, I encourage you to, they're already talking about it. They know about this people, parents are like, I don't want to I don't want anyone talking to my kid at school about suicide, I don't want the word suicide use. These kids are already talking about it, they know about suicide at home, talk to them. Tell them that you understand that life is hard for them, but that you're there for them, and you will get them help if they need help."

At the time of her daughter's death, Hill was going to law school at Texas Wesleyan University. She eventually got her degree and is now a go-to attorney in criminal cases with mental health or substance use issues.

She said anyone can do one small thing that could make a difference for someone else.

"We can all ask the question. Are you okay? And it could save a life. And I know it does, because I have done it. I've done it not only with people on the street, I've done it with friends. And I've done it with colleagues and I've done it with clients. It is so important to ask that question,” she said. “Because people are in a crisis. And when you ask the question, it validates their feelings, that stress and despair that they're feeling. It's like a balloon. That balloon that blows up with helium. And when you ask the question, it's like releasing air out of that balloon. And that's what we want. We want people to pause so then they can get the help."

For those who need help, the National Suicide Lifeline number changed recently to an easier number to remember: 9-8-8

Call volumes have shot up by 50 percent in August since the new number was launched in July. Anyone in crisis or those who know of someone who needs help can call the lifeline.

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