Bruce A. Blitman and Sandra Cumper.

Research shows that lawyers face higher rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide than the general population. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 the U.S. legal industry had the 11th- highest suicide rate among occupations, 18.8 per 100,000 compared with 16.1 per 100,000 nationwide.

A study of mental-health issues among U.S. lawyers released last year by Patrick Krill, a former practicing attorney who moved into addiction counseling seven years ago, and other researchers found that 20.6 percent of those surveyed were heavy drinkers and 28 percent experienced symptoms of depression, compared with 8 percent or less for the general population for both issues, according to other studies. The adversarial nature of law practice, together with work and home stressors and the demands of clients contribute to these problems. Advances in technology make it possible to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time, making it more difficult to escape from the stresses and challenges of practice. In “Law Firms Tackle a Taboo,” an article in the May 22 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Sara Randazzo reported that “some U.S. law firms are tackling mental health issues head-on. They are offering on-site psychologists, training staff to spot problems and incorporating mental health support alongside other wellness initiatives.”

Used interchangeably, the terminologies “mental health” and “mental illness” are assumed to mean the same thing. Every person has mental health just as everyone has physical health. Mental health relates to a level of psychological well-being or an absence of a mental disorder and explains the emotional, psychological and social well-being a person’s existence. It affects thought, feelings, and actions. Our mental health helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important throughout all stages of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Nonetheless, not all people will experience mental illness, but everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being.

Mental illness is associated with unique types of mental experiences, similar to different physical and health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “there is no health without mental health.” Throughout the course of life, various factors can contribute to mental health problems. Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences as in trauma or abuse, and family history of mental health all affect our thinking, moods, and behaviors. Mental illnesses present with different symptoms and affect lives in different ways.

What these conditions have in common is that they negatively affect a person’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. These symptoms influence how people see the world around them and how they interact in that world. One in five adults and one in four children experience mental health conditions each year. One in 17 lives with a serious and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and can indirectly affect family members, friends and communities. These numbers are staggering. In the course of our practices, it is quite likely that we will encounter employees, junior lawyers, partners, support staff, clients, judges and fellow lawyers who are struggling with mental health issues.

The following are some warning signs or indicators that can influence feelings or behaviors:

  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships;
  • Persistent and recurring thoughts and memories;
  • Withdrawing from people and usual activities;
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters;
  • Low or no energy;
  • Unexplained aches and pains; feeling helpless and/or hopeless;
  • Increased smoking or use of alcohol and drugs;
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little;
  • Forgetfulness, confusion, edgy, angry, upset, worried or scared;
  • Hearing voices or delusional beliefs; and
  • Thoughts of harming self or others, and inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of yourself or performing daily living skills.

Naturally, there are times when we change our thinking and worldview. However, the diagnosis for mental illness evaluates the frequency of the condition, duration of the illness and the associated symptoms, as well as the impact of mental illness on lives. However, it is important to consider that every diagnosis presents with its own symptoms. While there are no known cure for mental illnesses, recovery is possible.

​Here are some resources to help you and others​:

  • Florida Lawyers Assistance – http://fla-lap.org/
  •  Fl​orida a Toll-Free Hotline: (800) 282-8981 (National)
  • F​lorida Judges’ Hotline: (888) 972-4040 (National)
  • Pompano Beach Office: (954) 568-9040
  • Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition (FSPC) -http://www.floridasuicideprevention.org/ (800) 273-8255 (TALK)
  • National Alliance in Mental Illness – Broward County (NAMI) -https://namibroward.org/
  • Broward – (954) 316-9907
  • Helpline – (800) 316-9907
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800) 273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line – (800) 273-8255
  • Disaster Distress Helpline – (800) 985-5990

Th​is article was originally published in the September edition of the Broward County Bar Association’s Barrister.​

Sandra Cumper is the executive director of NAMI Broward County Inc., a mental health service agency in Plantation. Contact her at sandra@NAMIBroward.org. ​Bruce A. Blitman ​has been a mediator and ​alternative dispute resolutionneutral since 1989. Contact him at babmediate@aol.com.