If you know 10 lawyers, think about them sitting around a conference room table. If a recent study is accurate, three are depressed, and two suffer from anxiety or problem drinking.
We tend to think about these issues during extreme events, like when a lawyer commits suicide, but they exist every day under less dramatic circumstances. Perhaps it’s a lawyer in your office who’s distracted, sad or unusually short-tempered. Perhaps there is no outward sign of a struggle.
Last month we asked readers to share what stresses they encounter in the practice of law and how they deal with them. Among the responses was a raw account by a lawyer going through a particularly rough period and a host of ideas on ways to cope or otherwise deal with stress. They include counseling, healthy cellphone discipline, meditation, prayer and hobbies, such as a lawyer who loves disc golf.
These tactics won’t wipe stress away from the practice of law. This is, after all, a profession that resolves disputes that in other cultures or eras would likely lead to violence.
But the responses—especially the most personal one from a very brave lawyer—show how no one who feels stress is alone in this battle. The data from the 2016 ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study, if extrapolated to the 37,000 active members of the state bar, mean about 10,000 Georgia lawyers are depressed and about 7,400 have alcohol or anxiety problems.
Just as significantly, we learned that help exists. As one respondent explained, Georgia bar members are entitled to six prepaid counseling sessions, per issue per year, through the Lawyer Assistance Program. All services are accessible through a confidential hotline, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-327-9631.
The bar reports that the Lawyer Assistance Program has helped 493 members in the past two-and-a-half years. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that getting help can be effective: “Most people diagnosed with a mental health condition can experience relief from their symptoms and live a satisfying life by actively participating in an individualized treatment plan.”
The website of NAMI’s Georgia chapter includes a page with many resource contacts, including the Georgia Crisis & Access Line, “a free 24/7 helpline providing mental health crisis assistance and access to mental health resources throughout the state of Georgia”: 1-800-715-4225.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also staffed 24/7, is: 1-800- 273-TALK (8255).
You can read the responses by clicking on the titles in the slide show above.