There’s Help Out There: Resources You Need
Submitted by a dedicated Docket member.
We became lawyers to help people, to make a decent living and to enjoy a rewarding profession. We attended three grueling years of law school, made it through the crucible of the Bar exam and then worked long hours establishing our practice.
With the rewards of a law practice can come great emotional and professional strain, crushing workloads and the pressure of our clients’ causes weighing on our shoulders. Sometimes, the pressures of a legal practice can feel overwhelming.
Have you found yourself sitting at your desk long after the workday has ended for others, feeling like you worked hard all day but have nothing to show for it? Do you have trouble "disengaging" from work to spend time with your family or simply to enjoy life? Maybe you have less and less interest in what you’re doing; it "just isn’t fun anymore"; and you wonder why you’re doing it? You worry that these pressures are dragging you down, and that you are falling ever more behind as a lawyer, spouse, parent, or even as a person. Has it gotten to the point that you’re overwhelmed, concerned that you’re "slipping" on the job, and worried that your career may be in jeopardy?
Over time, this kind of stress takes its toll: depression, apathy, alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, or even health or family problems. Then, the downward spiral truly starts: you grow more disconnected from what you used to find a rewarding and interesting profession; you disconnect from friends and family. You feel like there is no one to talk to who would truly understand what you’re going through.
Maybe you’re ashamed for how you feel; you think you’re "weak" for feeling this way when you know that there are other people in the world going through a lot worse than you are. You find yourself drinking a lot more than usual, rationalizing that it’s "because you’re under so much stress at work," and just "need to unwind a little." Maybe you reach for the prescription bottle for one of those pain pills the doctor prescribed last week "when your back pain acted up," only to find it’s already empty — could you have taken that many in just a week?
You think you have it all bottled up, under control, under wraps. Nobody knows, and that’s how you want to keep it, right? But now it’s gotten to the point that your partners, or even your spouse, have brought it up. They’re worried about you, they say. Defensively you reject their expressions of concern and assure them "you’re fine." But you know you’re not fine. You’re drinking too much, or looking for relief in prescription or other drugs.
Maybe it’s not drugs or alcohol, but a growing sense of purposelessness or depression that is overtaking you. You’re not sleeping well, not eating right. You find no joy in things you used to love to do. You can’t go on this way, but what can you do? Where can you turn?
If any of this sounds familiar to you, either as a description of yourself, or of your law partner, associate or fellow law student, then take heart — you’ve already taken the first step. Lawyers don’t come by "self-awareness" as second nature. We’re even more reluctant to intervene when we see our partners, associates or others struggling with depression or substance abuse. If you have taken inventory of yourself and discovered that you have these concerns, or you have decided that someone you care about needs help, you are farther down the road to better times than you might think.
First, understand that you’re not alone. A recent Johns Hopkins University study of 104 occupational groups found that lawyers had the highest incidence of clinical depression. We are at higher risk for alcohol abuse, too. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 7 percent of Americans are alcoholics. In contrast, about 13 percent of lawyers surveyed by the ABA said they drink six or more alcoholic beverages a day. Substance abuse and depression are frequent underlying causes for attorney discipline.
The next step, whether for yourself or a colleague, is to make the decision to seek help. Climbing out of a spiraling depression or ending addiction are not self-service tasks. Substance abuse is a clinical illness, as is depression. Just as you wouldn’t do your own surgery, you will need help to do this.
Help is available. It’s as close as the Internet or your phone. It’s confidential. The people on the other end of the line will know what you’re going through, and will know what to do. Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers, Inc., is a Colorado nonprofit company dedicated to doing exactly what its name implies: helping lawyers battle depression or other mental and emotional challenges, substance abuse, gambling and other forms of addiction. They are peers — lawyers — who are ready at any time to help fellow lawyers. Since its inception in 1993 (under its previous name, Colorado Lawyers Health Program), it has offered peer support programs for the legal profession, including weekly evening meetings, referrals to counseling, educational outreach to firms and law schools, and other services.
The services are free. You can call (303) 832-2233 or toll-free at (800) 432-0977. You also can send a confidential e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.clhl.org to check out what CLHL has to offer. CLHL is exempt from reporting any lawyer to the Office of Attorney Regulation. If they breach this confidentiality, then they have violated the Code of Professional Liability.
In addition, all licensed Colorado attorneys can access the Colorado Attorney Assistance Program, http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Registration/CAAP.htm, administered for the Colorado Supreme Court by Mines and Associates, Inc., a national psychological referral company. CLHL welcomes disbarred, suspended, inactive or disabled lawyers, law students and judges. Similarly, CAAP is exempt from reporting any lawyer to the Office of Attorney Regulation. Mines and Associates, Inc. is only for active licensed lawyers.
Like CLHL, CAAP is as close as the phone: (800) 873-7138 or (303) 832-1068. You don’t have to go through this alone.
It doesn’t matter how deep you feel you’ve fallen, or how far you think your partner or colleague has gone down the vortex of depression or substance abuse. The way back may be a long one, but the journey begins with a single step. Pick up the phone. Drop an e-mail. The folks on the other end have their ropes out for you. Whether to help you deal with issues yourself, or to help you help a colleague or loved one get healthy, all you have to do is grab the other end, and start pulling.