Fennemore Recognizes The Critical Importance Of Mental Health Awareness Month

Millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness every year. This includes many professionals in the legal profession. Court deadlines, demanding clients, and tremendous workloads can add stress and anxiety—and ultimately these types of constant concerns can affect an attorney’s mental health and well-being.

During May, our law firm joins the national movement to raise awareness about the critical importance of mental health. In addition, the month is dedicated to educating the public about mental illnesses, the realities of living with these conditions, and ways in which to attain mental health and wellness.

About Mental Illness: the Numbers

The stigma of mental health is an issue that impacts many in the legal field. Six out of 10 adults with a mental illness didn’t seek out mental health services in the previous year. Moreover, 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of mental illness. Here are some of the most startling facts about mental health:

  • Mental disorders are among the leading causes of disability and ill-health in the world, impacting one in five people;
  • 18% of Americans live with an anxiety disorder; and
  • Nearly 7% of Americans suffer from severe depression.

Mental Health for Attorneys

Time is a premium for attorneys, and there’s always something we should be doing. Attorneys must constantly be prepared and anticipate the next threat or problem to be solved for our clients. Attorneys in reality have nothing to offer but their time and advice. And they can’t make more time, so as their workload increases, something has to give. That may be mental health.

Even on vacation, few lawyers can fully “unplug” and forget about their work. Attorneys typically fail at relaxing, and vacations can be few and far between. Family trips can be cut short for jury trials, and moms and dads can be stuck at their law office and miss kids’ school plays, music concerts, and ballgames.

In fact, lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people in other jobs. Consider another set of startling statistics:

  • The rates of addiction among lawyers is 2½ to 3½ times higher than national averages.
  • More than 20% of attorneys have an issue with alcohol consumption;
  • At least 25% of lawyers struggle with depression; and
  • Approximately 20% of lawyers show symptoms of anxiety.

Those numbers are truly staggering, and they highlight the important of mental health awareness in the legal profession. Some of this can be attributed to law school, where over the course of those intense three years, law student depression rates increase from under 10% to 40%. Further, 96% of law students suffer from significant stress, compared to 70% of med students and less than half (43%) of grad students overall.

However, despite the fact that there are numerous mental health treatments available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. And there’s a real issue of patients withdrawing from their treatment programs prematurely. Each year, about 20% of adults enrolled in mental health treatment drop out prior to completing the recommended course, which reduces the effectiveness of the treatment plan. This appears to be the same in the legal field, as in law school, and 2016 research shows that 42% of law students felt they needed mental health counseling, but only about half sought it out. Few attorneys feel they can take the time to get treatment.

Now many bar associations offer treatment as a part of their membership benefits. For example, there are Lawyers Assistance Programs (LAP) in Nevada, Nebraska, New York City, Texas, and many other associations around the country. The New York State Bar Association has a hotline available 24/7 that is staffed with trained mental health professionals. These programs also offer lawyers, judges, and law students information about peer support, support groups, monitoring, and LAP programs.

We urge those attorneys and allied legal professionals who are struggling with their mental health to seek treatment as soon as possible and stay with their program. Mental health conditions don’t improve on their own and can be tied to other health issues if left untreated.

Debunking Mental Health Myths

There’s plenty to do in Mental Health Awareness Month. One task is to dispel some of the common myths or misinformation that the public has about mental health.

One myth is that you can’t do anything for a person with a mental health problem. In fact, friends, co-workers, and loved ones can make a huge difference. In 2020, only 20% of adults received any mental health treatment in the past year, which included 10% who received counseling or therapy from a professional. Friends, teammates, and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need. As a friend, a co-worker, or family member, you can do the following:

  • Reach out and tell them you’re available to help.
  • Treat them with respect, as you would anyone else.
  • Assist them in gaining access to mental health services.
  • Educate yourself and share facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that’s false.
  • Not defining them by their diagnosis or using labels like “crazy”, but rather use person-first language.

You should also know that individuals with mental health problems are equally as productive as other employees, and that mental health issues don’t have anything to do with being lazy or weak. Many people just require some help to get better.

A last myth to dismiss is that you only need to take care of your mental health if you have a mental health condition. Not so. Each of us can benefit from taking active steps to promote our well-being and improve our mental health. Look into a Lawyers Assistance Program in your area for tips on wellness and how lawyers can alleviate stress and become more mentally and spiritually healthy.

Join us in combatting the stigma, providing support, educating the public, and advocating for policies that support those with mental illness and their families.