Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 17

"When people aren't taking care of themselves - mentally, emotionally, and/or
physically - they're prone to developing symptoms of illness," she explains.
"Lawyers, judges, and law students are no different than other people. They will
skimp on sleep, skip meals or eat junk food, drink too much alcohol, neglect
their relationships, fail to exercise, and isolate themselves. They seem to think
that these kinds of neglectful behaviors won't have a long-term impact on their
mood or well-being. They are wrong. Symptoms of depression and anxiety
disorders can and do develop in people who are not taking care of their most
basic human needs."
Another risk factor among lawyers is their tendency to not be self-aware, especially of their feelings, Perme says. "Lawyers are taught in law school to separate
their emotions from their thoughts and the problem at hand. They get good at
this to be good lawyers. They get so good at it, in fact, that they do it without
being aware of it, even when access to their emotions would be a good thing,"
she adds. "When we don't let ourselves feel genuine emotions, when we cut
those off in service to our ego or our career, we suffer. The emotions go underground without our awareness, and they fester. They cause us to act out instead
of being mindful of what is going on inside us and making room for our normal
feelings. Depression, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem are often the result
of this kind of 'stuffing' of our feelings. The counselors at the LAP are here to
help lawyers start being mindful of their emotions."
Factors outside the professional life such as sudden death of a loved one,
divorce, loss of a home, environmental disasters, physical ailments, or a serious
physical injury can spark substance abuse, depression, or anxiety. And some
people enter the legal profession with those problems already existing, but
without proper management of them.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness, substance use disorders,
and help-seeking behavior still persists in the legal field. Fortenberry says that
some of it comes from how lawyers and judges are perceived inside and
outside the legal profession. "Lawyers are supposed to be so competent,
charged, knowledgeable, and together. Some people don't think those things
can be consistent with someone who also has a substance abuse or mental
health problem," she explains.
There have been some encouraging signs of change. Since her involvement
with the LAP, Fortenberry says she has seen a lessening of the stigma around
mental health. "I think there is less stigma and that we still have a long way to
go. I think social media has helped lessen the stigma. I think there are more
young people who are talking more openly about mental health issues. A lot
of progress has been made, but the stigma is still there."
Another sign of progress was the creation of the National Task Force on
Lawyer Well-Being in 2016, following a landmark nationwide study by the
American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and
the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation showing "widespread levels of problem
drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession."
The study looked at nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers and cited a high incidence of substance abuse, particularly with alcohol. It found that between 21
percent and 36 percent of lawyers surveyed had drinking problems, and
approximately 28 percent struggled with some level of depression. Nineteen
percent of lawyers grappled with anxiety, and 23 percent experienced stress.

GETTING THE HELP YOU NEED
When a client reaches out to the LAP for short-term counseling or an evaluation
of a mental illness or depression, a clinician works with the client to create a
work-life plan of action to address the issues. "The LAP counselor will draw on
the client's personal strengths and resources to assist in developing counseling
goals. If a client comes in with stress related to work-life balance issues, for
instance, the clinician would assess the client's whole picture - work responsibilities, office culture, home life, family responsibilities, finances, client's resiliency, and his or her personality and temperament - and help the client make
changes that will make a difference in their stress level. The bottom line for any
presenting problem, from work-life balance to mental illness to alcohol
problems, is the question of how much the client is motivated to change what
is in their control," Perme says.

There are so many goals, obstacles, or
benchmarks that the profession sets up
that lawyers recognize that if we don't make
them, we are going to be facing some sort
of difficulty.
CRAIG MOORE
D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Committee Volunteer
*

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019

*

WASHINGTON LAWYER

17


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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Career & Professional Development
Calendar of Events
Goverment & Gavel
Feature: Fighting the Stigma: The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program
Feature: The Road to Wellness
Feature: Taking the Stand: How Corporate Monitorships Rein in Misbehavior
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading & Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Career & Professional Development
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Goverment & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: Fighting the Stigma: The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 16
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: The Road to Wellness
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 27
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: Taking the Stand: How Corporate Monitorships Rein in Misbehavior
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 34
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Worth Reading & Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover4
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