By Lindsay Doty
A smiley photo on social media or a friendly conversation at school or work doesn’t always paint an accurate picture.
“You don’t know what’s going on with people,” says Lael Hill, the new executive director of Mental Health America of Hendricks County (MHAHC). The Avon-based nonprofit works to promote mental wellness in the county by educating people and connecting them with services and support.
“I want people to know they are not alone. There is hope and help for them,” said Hill.
The experienced social worker and advocate, who took on the leadership role in January, comes to the job with professional and personal experience with mental illness.
Hill is a survivor of sexual assault. She battled depression. At the age of 22, she attempted to end her life.
“I had the trauma. I had chronic depression. You add alcohol, it was a disaster,” she said.
She says the lack of support when she went looking for help inspired her career in social work.
“After that, I realized how bad services were and decided to help myself by moving to Indianapolis to study social work and theory, apply those concepts to my own thinking, then help others so they never have to experience the same thing I did,” Hill said.
Through the years, the nearly 40-year-old has learned how to cope with episodes thanks to her support system and familiar comforts like the song “Brave” by Sarah Bareilles on repeat or chicken noodle soup from her husband.
“He tells me ‘don’t worry about the kids, the dishes, etc. I will take care of the house; you just get some rest.’ Because of him and my view of my illness, I am now able to recover in three days versus two weeks,” said Hill, who lives with her husband and two sons in Brownsburg.
She hopes by sharing her story she’ll inspire others to get help.
“I am now unafraid of sharing my story about mental illness so I can eradicate the negative stigma associated with my illness while promoting suicide prevention awareness activities in our community,” she said.
She wants to crush stereotypes like calling someone “crazy” or assuming they are unhappy.
“Just because someone is depressed or on medication doesn’t mean they aren’t happy, they are sick,” she explained.
“The whole ‘What do you have to be depressed about?’ response must become a thing of the past,” Hill said. “We have got to cancel that response.”
The MHAHC, a United Way partner, is encouraging people to seek the support they need. On Thursday nights, the agency offers a judgment-free support peer group to anyone who needs to talk.
The nonprofit also serves as a resource for people to find out where they can get help, instead of getting overwhelmed by online searches, said Hill explaining that MHAHC is like a “mental health Google that is trauma trained.”
In her new role, she is working with her team and community partners to hold the inaugural Walking for the Health of It event and Mental Wellness Health Fair on May 22 at Williams Park in Brownsburg.
Community partners say mental health awareness and education are key.
“Think of it this way — when someone is diagnosed with cancer, we see meal trains and people wrapping around the family who has a sick loved one,” said April Bordeau, executive director of Care to Change Counseling. “Wouldn’t it be monumental to wrap around families who have loved ones who are wrestling with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts?”
Together, advocates are hoping to shed light on what’s often viewed as a dark secret.
“I have a vision that we can all play a role in preventing suicide in our community while promoting mental wellness,” said Hill.
What: Peer support meetings for mental health issues
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursdays. No appointment needed.
Where: Mental Health America of Hendricks County, 75 Queensway Drive, Avon
Phone: (317) 262-0027
If you or someone you know is battling mental illness and needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255
Getting to know Lael Hill
- Song that motivates me
I definitely showed Sara Bareilles “how big my brave is” today. Her song “Brave” speaks to me and gives me the courage to be an advocate and a voice for vulnerable populations.
- Best advice I ever received
My brother once told me, “Where do you want to be in 5 years? Once you figure that out, look at the tiny steps you need to get there and put a plan in place.”
- Favorite place to go in Hendricks County
I love going to the Hendricks County Fairgrounds. They always work with the community to host amazing events, and the county fair is my favorite.
- A book I’m reading right now or show I’m binge-watching
I just started reading “Girl Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. I love self-help books.
- When I’m not working, I’m usually…
Always with my husband and two boys. We enjoy kayaking, gardening and bird watching. You may bump into me often at Wild Birds Unlimited where I am buying my beloved bluebirds their mealworms.
- Do you have pets?
We have three dogs, a cat and two guinea pigs. I love animals, and if I could quit my day job, I would live on a farm.
- Something that makes me smile
Animals of all kinds: Insects, reptiles, amphibians and the cuddly mammals we all enjoy.
- Post-pandemic trip or thing I’d like to do
Concerts!!! I just want to see a live concert again. Lady Gaga, Sia, Taylor Swift and Brittany Spears are on my bucket list.