What do Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, and 81 SC Lawyers Have in Common? Mental Health First Aid, 1119 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, November 2019, #42

AuthorBy Beth Padgett
PositionVol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 42

What do Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, and 81 SC Lawyers Have in Common? Mental Health First Aid

Vol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 42

South Carolina BAR Journal

November, 2019

By Beth Padgett

Mental Health First Aid, history and information

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an eight-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis1 . Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama have taken the training and serve as advocates for its growth. Lady Gaga has made quite an impact on MHFA’s growth across the country, especially among the adolescent population. Currently, more than 80 South Carolina lawyers are trained in Mental Health First Aid thanks to a program sponsored and promoted by the South Carolina Bar. In fact, South Carolina is one of the first states in the country to offer this program specifically for attorneys.

MHFA was developed in Australia by Betty Kitchener, a nurse and health educator, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. They run MFHA Australia and are involved with others in MHFA International. MHFA first came to the United States by way of Missouri. Due to alarming rates of mental illnesses and suicides, mental health organizations in Missouri researched various options for addressing the problem and decided on MHFA. A quick look at MHFA website will show the diligence with which the program has been researched and developed. It has become an evidence-based program that is touted by the National Council on Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Early efforts to tackle the lawyer well-being problem

Things have changed greatly during Robert Turnbull Jr.’s tenure with the South Carolina Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers (LHL) program. Robert is currently a co-director of LHL and is moving towards retirement after more than 18 years as the director. Those y ears included 10 years of working solo. He directed a team of volunteer monitors and interventionists. They mostly served older male attorneys who were experiencing career-threatening alcohol use disorders. Prior to Robert’s tenure, all the work was provided by volunteers. This is a similar story to the lawyer assistance programs across the country. The timelines are different and the programs that developed took different forms.

I came on in late 2010, beginning a law school initiative and assisting Robert and others with developing CLEs on substance use disorders and mental illnesses in the profession. The CLE was mandated by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. The first couple of years in the law schools were awkward. The audiences in the CLEs ranged from offended and anxious to appreciative. Some wondered what had taken us so long to talk about this closeted subject that was limiting, if not destroying, lawyers’ lives.

Time has passed and more changes have come to pass. Lawyers in South Carolina and across the country (and the world) have continued to suffer the consequences of these disorders, some to the point of dying from alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide. Stakeholders began to take these problems more seriously. The American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), along with the Betty Ford Foundation/Hazelden, conducted a survey on lawyer well-being in 2015, the first comprehensive study of this issue. A couple of years later, a national survey of law student well-being was conducted. These surveys showed alarming rates of multiple mental health problems, substance use disorders included, from law school through the profession...

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