Bonnie White, stays active in retirement, serving her community as a CHC Board chair
Updated: Oct 11
PARAGOULD – With more than 40 years in mental health, Bonnie White started as a case worker, experiencing first-hand the challenges people face when they have major depression, anxiety, or other such afflictions. Many also suffered from extreme poverty and lack of education.
“My job was to make sure they took their medicine,” White recalled. “Most of the time, it was just a failure for them to understand how to get their medication refilled. It was very challenging, but it was rewarding. When I saw that not as many of the patients were returning to the hospital, I felt I was making a difference.”
A graduate of Arkansas State University, White briefly worked as a teacher for migrant farm worker children in the Missouri bootheel before shifting to social work. She felt a calling to the profession after much prayer.
It didn’t take long for White to advance to a leadership position, becoming executive director of the George W. Jackson Community Mental Health Center in Jonesboro in 1981. The center served 13 counties in northeastern Arkansas.
She negotiated real estate deals for the center, opened new clinics, and started a new program to serve persons determined to have a mental illness at the time of a crime.
“I love trying new things,” she said. “I’m just driven to do it. I’ll take a healthy risk.”
She collaborated with 1st Choice Healthcare, a community health center based in Corning. She saw the potential of joining forces to provide behavioral health services under the same roof as primary care services.
“I always enjoyed working with community health centers,” she said. “They were good partners.”
White, 76, retired in 2016. She stays active, serving as the chair of the Board of Directors for 1st Choice. She spends quality time with her daughters and grandchildren.
She also volunteers at Browns Chapel Baptist Church in Paragould, caring for children in the nursery and teaching a Bible study class, including a course called Bad Women of the Bible.
“We have a lot of fun with
that one,” she smiles.
The growing acceptance of mental health today has some positive and negative aspects, White said.
“More children are being identified as in need of services at an early age, but not all need to be diagnosed and grow up in the mental health system. Life can be tough, but that doesn’t mean we have a mental illness. But when you get a certain level of clinical depression or anxiety, you need therapy and/or medication, even for a short period of time. I’m glad the stigma has reduced.”