Mental well-being does not happen in a vacuum. This Mental Health Awareness Month, learn more about how mental health is connected to your overall health and welfare.
May is Mental Health Month was started 70 years ago by Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. This year’s theme, 4Mind4Body, explores the topics of animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.
Good mental health is especially important for attorneys. A study published in 2016 by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, in collaboration with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, gathered data on substance abuse and mental health issues among American lawyers. The results were jarring - 20.6% of respondents displayed signs of problematic drinking, 28% reported experiencing mild or higher levels of depression, and 19% reported experiencing mild or higher levels of anxiety. Even more concerning, the rates were higher for younger, less experienced attorneys.
Many law firms are enacting measures to protect the mental health of their attorneys. Over 100 law firms and law schools have signed the ABA's Well-Being Pledge launched by the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession and designed to address the profession’s troubling rates of alcohol and other substance-use disorders, as well as mental health issues. This pledge provides suggested guidelines to legal employers for responding to an employee who is experiencing impairment due to a substance use disorder, mental health disorder, or cognitive impairment. These steps stress the importance of education, proactive policies, and confidential access to mental health experts and resources.
For those looking to start a mental health wellness campaign at their firm (or for those solo practitioners who want to learn to techniques to help develop a work-life balance), check out the Well-Being Tool Kit for Lawyers and Legal Employers by Anne M. Brafford for use by the American Bar Association. This Tool Kit includes an 8 Step Action Plan that includes strategies and resources for starting or continuing a well-being initiative.
Looking for further resources? Check out these publications from the American Bar Association:
The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice through Mindfulness and Meditation - Authors Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford developed this 8-week guide as an entry to meditation practices that can reduce anxiety, improve focus and clarity, and enrich quality of life.
The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness - A series of essays compiled by Stewart Levine, this book is broken into three parts focusing on self-awareness, self-management, and engagement.
The Full Weight of the Law: How Legal Professionals Can Recognize and Rebound from Depression - By psychologists Shawn Healy, Ph.D. & Jeffrey Fortgang, Ph.D., this text highlights various causes of depression, treatment possibilities, helping a friend or family member, and how to manage common triggers.