Mental Health: The Issue of Our Time.

Author:Higer, Michael J.
Position:President's page

I thank Judge Steve Leifman, co-chair of the Special Committee on Mental Health in the Courts and chair of the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court, for his assistance in drafting this column and spotlighting this important issue for our members.

Judge Steve Leifman--a leader not just in our state but in our country--on the issues of our mental health system joins me in writing this column.

Whether it is criminal, civil, family, juvenile, probate, or any other area of law, a common thread that runs through the legal community is the impact of mental illnesses on individuals, families, and communities. Mental health issues touch every facet of our personal and professional lives from the clients we serve; to the lawyers, judges, and colleagues we depend on to provide effective assistance of counsel; to our friends and our family members.

Every year, more than two million people with serious mental illnesses are arrested and booked into jails in the United States. On any given day, there are roughly 550,000 individuals with mental illnesses housed in local, state, and federal correctional facilities and another 900,000 under correctional control in the community.

Up to 80 percent of the nearly half million children in foster care experience significant mental health issues; yet just 23 percent of those who are in foster care for at least 12 months receive any mental-health services.

Between 60 and 90 percent of women who experience domestic violence have significant mental-health issues, and the harm is not limited to victims of physical abuse. At least 3.3 million children witness parental domestic violence annually, leading to both immediate and long-term social, emotional, and behavioral problems.

During the economic downturn from 2005 and 2010, the proportion of completed suicides committed by individuals experiencing employment, financial, and legal difficulties increased from 32.9 to 37.5 percent. Presumably, many of these individuals had active relationships with attorneys at the time of their deaths.

Among the legal profession, the occurrence of mental illnesses and other behavioral health disorders is particularly acute. A 1990 study by Johns Hopkins University of more than 100 occupations found that lawyers experienced depression at a rate 3.6 times that of other professions. In 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs published a study of nearly...

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