VJLAP’s 2020 Intake Rate is Not Higher But Is More Serious
The 2020 rate of VJLAP utilization remained the same as the previous year, but the level of distress our clients were experiencing was dramatically more severe. While education, outreach, and engagement activities try to reduce the stigma associated with experiencing and seeking help for mental health conditions, there remains much work to be done to encourage higher utilization of prevention, early intervention, and treatment solutions before conditions become crises. A recent article from Bloomberg Law explored the underutilization of lawyer assistance programs while the level of distress within the profession is on the rise.
We know: (i) members of the legal profession have a greater risk for and a higher rate of mental health and substance use disorders; (ii) attorneys have a lower rate of resilience (the ability to bounce back and grow from adversity); (iii) these risks and rates are strongly associated with personalities and dispositions, high professional demands, and the historical lack of prioritization of mental health issues within the legal profession; (iv) the mental health crisis behind the health crisis has challenged the overall well-being of the legal community more profoundly than ever before; (v) there is a disconnect between the rates of lawyer assistance program usage throughout the country and reported rates of emotional distress; and (vi) VJLAP is voluntary, confidential, non-disciplinary, free, and available 24/7 to help.
It has been five years since the Hazeldon/ABA study validated the widespread belief that attorneys experience high rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, stress, and other mental health disorders. Now add to that the global, political, environmental, and societal disruptions of 2020, streaming into 2021. We are collectively entering into our second year of life in a pandemic, and the dark, cold, and dreary days of this winter, the surge in positive cases and deaths, and the uncertainty about the vaccine have generally failed to improve the situation globally and personally. And, in this all, the pandemic behind the pandemic, the manifestations of more severe symptoms of mental health disorders, continues to be overshadowed by or has taken a back seat to the other aspects of life upended by the pandemic.
As lawyers, our professional identities requires us to maintain the appearance of invulnerability with clients and peers and to push through adversities. This “persona” frequently bleeds into our personal lives and causes many lawyers to ignore or to struggle with mental health issues alone. This can result in even more anxiety and stress for the lawyer and a higher level of distress when help is sought (e.g., 2020 VJLAP intakes had a dramatically higher rate of referral to inpatient treatment than in previous years). And, the accumulated stress from 2020 combined with emerging from remote work, including returning to offices and jury trials, could exacerbate symptoms for many attorneys as we travel through 2021.
The challenges of the pandemic, both in our practices and in our personal lives, present us with opportunities to learn how to better support ourselves and each other. We need to turn the tide in the professional culture toward wellness and connectedness. It would not be a surprise to know and acknowledged that we are individually and collectively affected by the pandemic. The strength comes in sharing that experience and seeking help. Now, more than ever, we all could use a little extra help making sure we stay well in mind, body and spirit.
We know the problems exists, the solutions are out there, and attorneys with mental health problems can strive to great heights in the profession. VJLAP is here to help individuals, reduce personal and systemic stigma, and promote supportive, reintegrated environments. Let’s discuss and promote wellness, preventive and early intervention activities together. Just give us a call, text, email, etc.