Recognizing We Have a Problem: The Mental Health and Wellness of Lawyers.

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

In my last column, I talked about "having a heart"--meaning practicing with passion, purpose, and meaning. For some members of the Bar, it doesn't always come easy. Part of having a heart means having a better understanding of ourselves and compassion for our colleagues. That is why the health and wellness of our members is paramount to The Florida Bar.

Flight attendants always remind us to first put on our own oxygen mask before assisting someone else. It is because before we can help others, we must first help ourselves. Simply put, our justice system depends on the health and wellness of the lawyers who are the advocates for justice.

Mental health issues touch all of us in every facet of our legal community --from solo small firm practitioners, who make up approximately 76 percent of the lawyers in Florida, to lawyers who practice in the public sector to lawyers who practice with large law firms, as well as law students. All of us face daily pressures and stresses that compromise our overall mental and physical health. If we are not healthy, it affects the health of our justice system. It is, thus, critical for each of us, but also the public we serve, that we focus on the health and wellness of our lawyers.

In a 2015 Florida Bar membership survey, 33 percent of Florida lawyers reported high stress as a major problem; 32 percent reported that balancing work and family was a significant challenge; and seven out of 10 said they would change careers if they could. National studies are similarly alarming: Lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide; the alcoholism rate for lawyers is double that of the general population; 33 percent of us suffer from diagnosed mental disorders; and we are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from severe depression. These numbers do not paint a healthy picture of lawyers.

Although heartbreaking, these numbers should not be surprising. We toil in a highly competitive, adversarial, profession, which is very demanding of our time and energy and where our success or failure often has a profound impact on the lives of the people we represent. We shoulder our client's burdens as if they are our own. We constantly work under severe time pressures. We search for definitive answers to questions in which there are only gray answers. We are accessible 24/7. All these stresses frequently lead us to sacrifice our own well-being. We not only take pride in our self-sacrifice, but we hide our struggles...

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