Happy New Year! The winter months bring warm holidays full of fun with family and friends. But for many, they also come with increased stress, depression, financial worries, and anxiety about the future. While many are reveling, some of us are struggling. Lawyer well-being can be particularly challenging.
As a Profession, Lawyers Struggle with Mental Health and Substance Issues
As I have written about before, the 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs told us that 28 percent of attorneys report some level of depression, while 19 percent report symptoms of anxiety and 11 percent have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their careers.
Chances are that if this doesn’t apply to you, it applies to one or more of your co-workers.
Galvanized by the findings in the ABA-Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Report, as well as a 2016 report showing similar disturbing trends in law students, last year, a coalition of lawyers from various organizations across the country came together to form the National Task Force on Attorney Well-Being. In August of 2016, the group released “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
Help For Lawyers, By Lawyers
The Report is a clarion call to change the culture of the profession. It offers concrete examples of steps that lawyers, law firms, bar associations, law schools, lawyers assistance programs and the overall legal community can take to dedicate ourselves to a proper path for wellness, which includes a healthy work-life balance.
One of the recommendations is that we communicate that well-being is a priority. We all have many stressors in our lives, whether it’s a client, a case, a project, or a professional commitment, and we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. Your health, our collective health and well-being, is of paramount importance.
Now at the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to remind ourselves about resources available to help with improving our well-being. Please know that if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or are just feeling like you’re going through a hard time and need some help, you can reach out to our amazing and 100 percent confidential Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program at (800) LAP-1233. You can also call on behalf of a colleague about whom you are concerned and the staff will confidentially reach out to the person.
The Lawyers’ Assistance Program was founded in 1980 by a concerned group of lawyers who saw the need for members of the profession to reach out to help colleagues impaired by alcohol abuse and addiction. LAP is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation and is also funded by an allocation from the attorneys’ annual registration fee. It has therapists on staff and offers counseling for those in acute situations as well as resources to prevent crisis and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the headquarters in Chicago, LAP has satellite offices in Bloomington, Belleville, and Park Ridge, Illinois.
LAP can offer a wealth of assistance, not just to address substance use and abuse, but also to help with stress, anxiety, depression, suicide prevention, and overall wellness. You do not need to be in a crisis to take advantage of these offerings to improve well-being.
To this effect, LAP focuses on reaching clients before they are in crisis. The word is getting out. Last year, LAP experienced a 32% year over year increase in cases opened and self-referrals jumped 105%. The fastest growing demographic is attorneys aged 20-30. Therefore, LAP created an Associate Board of volunteers in this age range and holds regular office hours at law schools across the state.
In addition, as we have written about before, Illinois MCLE rules now include a requirement that every lawyer take one hour of mental health/substance abuse CLE in each reporting period. LAP offers both in-person and online educational programs that allow lawyers to fulfill this requirement for free. Some of their newest offerings include Burnout Prevention, Resiliency in the Face of Adversity, and Your Best Thinking in the Worst Situations: Improving Decision Making Under Stress. LAP holds periodic trainings for intervenors; look for information about programs to be scheduled in both Carbondale and Chicago in June. Finally, the Commission on Professionalism will be collaborating with LAP to produce another course on attorney well-being in 2018.
Resolution for Lawyer Well-Being
To see clearly, think clearly, help our families and our loved ones, perform to our full potential at work, and serve this profession to our fullest, we must focus on our well-being.
In 2018, let’s recommit to taking care of ourselves and each other.