Xavier Magazine

Reducing the Stigma: Mental Illness

They say bad things happen in threes. For Debbie Dutton Lambert, it was all too true. She experienced a murder, an attempted suicide and a successful suicide—all in her first semester at Xavier. The experiences left her traumatized. But they also left her more confident in her own resiliency and pointed her to a course of study and a 35-year career as a behavioral health therapist.

Today, Lambert is launching Encompass, a business that jumps into the national debate about gun violence and mental illness by focusing on treating mental illness in the workplace.

“Our society doesn’t want to talk about mental illness,” says Lambert, Class of 1976. “But the shootings and violence are going to continue because the primary issue is the lack of understanding about mental illness. ”

Lambert’s trauma began on a Saturday night in November 1972 when three men entered the campus game room where she was hanging out. They took wallets and cash. When one student looked up, they shot him dead. Weeks later, her roommate attempted suicide over Thanksgiving, and her new roommate ended her life over Christmas. Lambert left Xavier for a semester but came back to study psychology and behavioral health. She also earned an MBA in 1983.

With Encompass, Lambert can help employers mitigate the cost of behavioral health care for their employees through early education and treatment. People get treatment and relief, and businesses reduce the cost of lost productivity. Lambert is excited to be on the cusp of a new approach to improving mental health for workers and feels she’s been preparing for it since her freshman year.

-France Griggs Sloat

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