By Sarah Sapp
University of Mississippi
After practicing law for 29 years, Robin Minyard lost both her son and husband to suicide. She left her legal career to become a full-time advocate for suicide prevention and substance abuse disorders.
The path to her new career runs through the Master of Social Work program at the University of Mississippi.
Minyard recently was featured on a podcast with Right Track Medical Group, where she shared her story about alcoholism, substance abuse and the importance of access to mental health with “South of Fine” podcast host Rhes Low.
“We have a daughter and a son,” Minyard said. “Our oldest is a daughter, and our second was our son. He was very involved. He always had a lot of energy, kind of a Robin Williams kind of person – a lot of charisma.
“He became a chef and was acclaimed, and became a chef to a celebrity and did well, but what we also noted was that there was a private struggle that he had with alcohol, and it was severe.”
Her son was accomplished and, by many measures, successful, but his family did not know the depth of his struggles.
“In 2012, the big surprise came when the police department came up to my house – he was not living with us – and informed us that he had died by suicide,” Minyard said. “He was 30 years old. Nobody saw that coming.
“There, we were forced to deal with that head-on. The next thing is, the next few months led to a real downward spiral with my husband and myself. Really self-medicating those painful things.”
Minyard recalled that just hours after she learned of her son’s death, a friend who was a counseling professional came to her house and sat her down to discuss the road ahead.
“He said, ‘You know, this is going to affect your marriage, and you need to get into counseling right now because you are going to grieve differently,'” she recalled. “I thought, ‘My goodness, I’ve already lost a son. I can’t lose a husband.'”
The couple quickly started sessions with a counselor to deal with the grief and other issues.
“Then my husband and I got into a 12-step program,” she said. “Our recovery from alcohol and, for him, alcohol and opioid use. We got into that … from 2012 until 2017, when in April of 2017, I came home from work and my husband had died by suicide. He was sober at that time.”
The loss of her son and husband inspired Minyard to pursue her master’s degree in social work, so she could become a counselor in the areas of individual therapy, group therapy, substance use disorders and crisis intervention.
Her coursework and internships with the Oxford Treatment Center and the University Counseling Center, under the supervision of licensed, certified social workers, are preparing her to help others. At the Oxford Treatment Center, Minyard learned how to lead individual and group therapy sessions.
“You know, there’s a spectrum of clients we get,” she said. “Anything that a student would present, such as academic anxiety or perhaps depression or general anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, that sort of thing; you know, it runs the whole gamut.”
Ronn Pierce, a counselor at the Oxford Treatment Center, has known Minyard since they started law school together in 1986.
“I had the opportunity to be her supervisor while she was an intern with the Oxford Treatment Center,” Pierce said. “You would be hard-pressed to find someone with a more understanding ear or a bigger work ethic. Robin is already a dedicated and talented advocate. She will soon be an excellent counselor.”
“I have a heart for people in recovery,” she said. “The Collegiate Recovery Community is made up of students who are either wanting to be in recovery or who are in recovery and reach out. It’s a supportive organization for those people, and it’s growing.
“There’s nothing like two students getting together, supporting one another in recovery. Yeah, we had 12-step groups. We had SMART (self-management and recovery training), we had mindfulness education – all promotion of healthy living lifestyles, and I think that is just going to grow exponentially.”
Working with the Collegiate Recovery Community allowed Minyard to put what she was learning in class into real-world practice. She felt that she was making a difference and contributing to solutions for others, she said.
Minyard is in her second clinical internship with the University Counseling Center, where she is learning about all the center offers in consultations, initial assessments, individual and group counseling and therapy, couples counseling and therapy, and crisis intervention. She is also learning about the use of technology in case management.
She attributes much of her success to the Ole Miss social work program.
“The special thing about the social work program at UM is that our leaders and teachers truly advocate for our success because they think the world needs more of us,” she said.
“I utilize social work principles in my daily living and interactions with other people on a micro scale. At the macro level, I advocate for a harm-reduction approach to substance-use disorders.”
Social work instructor Patricia Digby has watched Minyard develop her skills throughout her time in the program.
“Robin Minyard has been an excellent student,” Digby said. “She has a wonderful insight into what social work actually is. She also is a strong advocate for the forgotten.
“I look forward to hearing from her after she graduates. She is going to make a huge difference in the lives of the people she counsels.”
Brian Droubay, assistant professor of social work, quickly noticed in the classroom that Minyard’s sole motivation wasn’t to earn a degree but to accumulate knowledge and skills to help others.
“Robin is among the most driven students I have ever taught,” Droubay said. “The fact that she has leveraged her pain into a mission to alleviate suffering is a truly admirable thing. Beyond this, she is uniquely fitted to make a difference.
“Not only does she have a big heart, but she is smart and analytical by nature, which will help her think through the complex problems she wants to address, both individually with clients as well as at the policy level. We’ve been lucky to have her in our program, and I’m excited to watch her impact professionally.”
Fellow social work student Jennifer Briggs, of Tupelo, has enjoyed getting to know Minyard over the last two years in the program.
“She has persevered so much, and her courage inspires me,” Briggs said. “I have learned so much from her and admire her motivation and resilience to achieve goals important to her.”
For more information about the Department of Social Work, visit https://sw.olemiss.edu/. For more information about the Collegiate Recovery Community, visit https://magee.olemiss.edu/. For more information about the University Counseling Center, visit https://counseling.olemiss.edu/.