Mental health is an escalating concern amongst Americans, and the pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues worldwide. According to a recent Gallup study, mental health is far worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. It continues to disrupt people’s lives and wreak havoc on their relationships and careers. Considering the upcoming ABA Lawyer Well-Being Week, which is held in May 2021, I wanted to address some issues that I have seen and let my readers know they are not alone. I also want to offer a message of hope and provide some advice from a renowned mental health counselor I spent some time interviewing so we can all address mental health together.
As an extroverted individual, I have always thrived in social settings. I love connecting with people, and I always felt refreshed and energized after a get-together or a presentation. I’m usually the first person in the room and the last one out. I like to interact, discuss issues, and celebrate milestones with my team, clients, family, and friends. Lately, I have noticed a shift within myself. We have been isolated and working remotely for so long that I no longer feel the need to get out as much as I used to. My team and I hardly go into the office anymore. And I am dreading social settings. At times, I admit, I even avoid them. I feel like I’ve become introverted since the pandemic, and I know I’m not alone.
Jim West, President of Total Life Counseling Center, who I’ve collaborated with for many years, says, “people are forgetting to connect socially.” He continues, “it’s not so much that we are becoming introverted, but it’s that we start to feel socially awkward around each other and start questioning things like how do I talk, what do I say? People are missing body language, tone, and being together.”
Over the past year, West reports that he has seen a significant increase in teenagers becoming addicted to their devices and falling behind in school. He is also seeing an increase in couples needing more counseling to learn how to cope with being sheltered in place all the time. There is also an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.
One of the things we can do to improve the situation is to get outdoors. West often tells his clients, “even if you must stand in the driveway to talk with a neighbor, it’s important to carve out time for that and connect with one another.” He also encourages his clients to buy stationary bikes, a boat or anything that helps encourage exercise and getting out into nature. “Paying attention to mental health is critical to our livelihood,” he says. “We are in this together, and we must take care of one another.”
Studies have shown that weekly religious service attendance brings a positive impact to mental health and emotional wellbeing. While that has changed immensely with the option to attend virtually and outdoors, Jim also encourages people to attend and strike up conversations over common subjects.
The legal profession, which I have been a part of for over 25 years, is in the top ten for suicide by occupation, according to the Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. Mental health is the most significant contributor to the dire decision for one to take their own life. We must be diligent about treating our mental health just as we do our physical health, and discussion is a great first step. I see mental health challenges every day in my profession, and the data shows I’m not alone. Families, specifically, carry a large burden due to the increased childcare responsibilities and disruption to work. Until we receive more guidance about mental health, I remain concerned and hopeful about our future and our wellbeing. It’s time to be real with one another and talk openly about what is going on. We are #hereforyou.