Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.
As chair of The Florida Bar's Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers, I am grateful to have this opportunity to contribute to the Bar's comprehensive efforts toward improving the lives of our members. As the guest editor of this feature on mental health and wellness, I hope to shed light and begin the process of destigmatizing mental health and wellness issues and continue an open dialogue on this critical topic.
I am a marital and family lawyer at a small firm. On a daily basis, I am required to manage the high pressure and stresses of an emotionally charged practice on top of the normal stresses of any litigation practice. I have seen first-hand the devastating impact the pressures of litigation can have on both lawyers and their clients. Family lawyers and judges often require parties to seek treatment for mental-health issues and assist clients during a difficult and transitional time in their life. Lawyers need to similarly care for their own mental health and put on their own oxygen mask before assisting others. Unfortunately, lawyers are not heeding this well-worn advice.
One major goal of the special committee is to overcome the discomfort lawyers have in speaking about their emotional struggles, whether they are personal or professional, and their need for assistance. The incredible outpouring of interest to the special committee further underscores the urgent need for solutions to the issues plaguing our legal community.
Recent studies and statistics provide evidence of the problems Florida lawyers are facing. Just a fraction of the available data show these issues can no longer be the elephant in the room. Lawyers lead the nation with the highest incidence of depression. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than nonlawyers. (1) The suicide rate of lawyers is double that of the general population. (2) The ABA estimates 18 percent of all U.S. lawyers suffer from problem drinking (which is double the national average). (3) Plain and simple, our profession is suffering; too many lawyers are generally unhappy. Within our Florida Bar membership alone (pursuant to the most recent membership survey in 2015):
* 33 percent believe high stress is a significant challenge within the profession.
* 32 percent believe balancing family and work is a significant challenge within the profession.