May is Mental Health Month and there is no better time to remind lawyers and judges about the importance of self-care to reduce our risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. We all know this is a stressful profession. Triggers and causes include the intensity of the business of law, the fact that we help people when they are experiencing this worst thing that ever happened to them, and the constant challenge of our adversarial system. In our profession we tend to be reactive (we don’t have work until someone else has a problem) but in the case of mental health, we must be proactive.
As a profession we experience major depression and substance use disorder at rates significantly higher than the population as a whole. We have a higher rate of suicide. We also experience greater rates of anxiety, chronic stress and divorce. Lawyer assistance programs have been on the forefront of education and direct assistance for decades, but we all need to talk about it.
Chronic stress we experience may trigger depression, anxiety, or other illnesses, and may lead to a sense of helplessness, increasing anxiety and the inability to complete even mundane tasks. We may feel shame because lawyers aren’t supposed to feel helpless. If we have a particularly intense period, we may perceive that as a new normal, rather than a sprint from which we must recover. Drinking becomes a way to evade dealing with our stress until the drinking itself becomes the problem. We’re paid to solve the problems of others and isolate because we feel we should be able to solve our problems ourselves.
No one needs to do this alone. Minnesota’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers offers free and confidential peer and professional support to lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress. This includes up to 4 free counseling sessions statewide, peer support, groups, and individual resources. Services are available 24 hours a day.
The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has created Lawyer Well-Being Week, May 4-8. Myriad resources will help individuals and organizations examine how to support each other so we can all do our best work.Joan Bibelhausen