A look into mental health and substance abuse in the legal profession
Health and Wellness
Suffering in silence no more
Drugs. Alcohol. Mental Health. Baker Act. Jail. Recovery. Relapse. Repeat.
By Judge Lauren L. Brodie
Special to the News
Drugs. Alcohol. Mental Health. Baker Act. Jail. Recovery. Relapse. Repeat.
In our profession, these are topics we hear about every day and may have seen to some extent with our clients or colleagues.
As a judge for over 25 years, I have seen the effects of many of these issues on those who have appeared before me in every division, but most prominently in the family, juvenile, and criminal divisions where I have presided for almost 20 years. Still, nothing could prepare me for how to react when those same issues emerged in my own family. Immediately, feelings of embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, shame, and fear washed over me. As a parent, I was unprepared for the myriad challenges those diseases would present to me and to my children. For the past 17 years, I have been navigating the systems much like any other parent, while trying to stay under the radar, avoid publicity, and maintain my public persona.
But suffering in silence is draining. I want — no, I need — to share what I have learned through my experiences so that I may help others facing these same struggles. I believe we have to talk about drug abuse and mental health more openly to rid ourselves and our loved ones of the stigma of fault and shame that are often associated with these diseases. These diseases are chronic and progressive, much like heart disease or diabetes.
Through my journey, I have learned that although there is often a genetic predisposition to such diseases, I did not cause these diseases in my family, and I cannot control or cure them. As you can imagine, I have tried everything I could to help my children, and I have exhausted myself and my resources in the process. I have located treatment centers for my children when they were young and as they have grown, I have attended and participated in countless therapy sessions at their rehab facilities, and I have spent an infinite number of hours worrying about them.
However, none of what I have done has changed the natural trajectory of their problems. I sometimes wonder if my assistance (or my interference) has delayed the natural course of events, or at least delayed them from “hitting their bottom.”
I have learned that when a person struggles with substance abuse, there are only three ways out: incarceration, death, or recovery. And fortunately, I have not experienced my children’s death — yet.
I have had to learn the true meaning of the Serenity Prayer.
“G-d, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
“Courage to change the things I can; and
“Wisdom to know the difference.”
What I now know through many years of heartache is that I have to accept my children for who they are and not who or what I wanted them to be. I have to accept their choices and behaviors regardless of how immature or irresponsible they may be, and I have to accept my children as they are, one currently in recovery from the disease of addiction and the other struggling with both chemical dependency and mental health. The dual diagnosis is much more difficult to address since so many people present with many overlapping symptoms and often self-medicate. Because it takes many months to stabilize a person’s chemical imbalance, from my experience, the person so afflicted may choose street drugs with which they are much more familiar, forgoing the trial and error process of pharmacological medications.
The second part of the Serenity Prayer about courage speaks to me. I can only change myself — my behavior, my outlook, and my reactions to my children’s choices. I have no control over them and have had no control over them or their lifestyle choices for a very long time.
And the last part — the wisdom to know the difference — has made me realize that I have to give my children the dignity and respect to experience the consequences of their choices. And, that’s hard because I always believed that my job as a parent was to protect, prevent, and insulate my children from the bad and ugly parts of this world.
In this lengthy chapter of my journey, I have had to discover healthy ways to cope. That has been extremely difficult. Where could I go to seek help? With whom could I discuss these issues? What would you and my colleagues think of me as a parent and judge if you knew about my personal struggles?
As a result of The Florida Bar’s recent emphasis on wellness, and now that I realize I am not alone struggling with these issues, I want to share some of my coping strategies with those of you who might be in need. The single most helpful tool for me has been Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking or drugging. It is a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics/addicts who share their experience, strength and hope to help solve their common problems. I was apprehensive about going to a meeting with a group of total strangers and even more concerned about sharing intimate details of my life with them. What has helped me the most is the confidentiality and anonymity of the program. In Al-Anon, what you hear and who you see are not to be revealed or discussed outside of the meeting rooms. That gave me a powerful sense of safety and security as I found comfort and solace by sharing my woes with other people going through similar challenges. There are over 30 weekly meetings in Collier County. Meetings in other counties can easily be located by going online. Most of my coping skills — such as what to say to my children, how to say things to my children, how to set clear and specific boundaries and how to take care of myself — have come from attending these meetings which are free of charge.
My husband and I recently began attending a 12-week course called Family to Family sponsored by NAMI — National Alliance on Mental Illness. In this course, we are learning about mental illness, meeting other families who are also grappling with these challenges and trying to come up with ways to live a happy life, regardless of whether or not our loved one with mental illness gets healthy. Not every NAMI chapter offers this program so you might have to travel to another county as my husband and I are doing.
And finally, there are now very knowledgeable mental health therapists who understand addiction issues and who can genuinely help you cope with your personal strife. It may take interviewing one or two of them to find the right person, but they are out there and are equipped to help you make a positive difference in your life. You may be able to find good referrals from your local chemical dependency/mental health facility.
I hope this column helps you if you’re facing these same issues. If you’re fortunate enough not to face these issues, then hopefully you will save this and share it with a family member or friend if the situation presents itself. Together, we must understand that these illnesses are diseases. We must work to help ourselves stay sane and healthy while our loved ones are going through these difficult times. If I can be of help to any of you personally, please feel free to contact me at 239-514-1885 or at [email protected].
Judge Lauren Brodie served as a senior judge throughout the 20th Circuit from 1999 until her appointment to the circuit bench by Gov. Jeb Bush in October 2001. Prior to that, Judge Brodie served as a circuit judge for the 11th Circuit from 1995-1998 and as a Miami-Dade County judge from 1991-1994. Brodie has served as a faculty member of the Florida Judicial College from 1992-1998 and again from 2006-2011. She has also served as a member of the Education Committee for the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges and has taught at judicial education conferences. In 2007, Judge Brodie was awarded the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Judicial Distinguished Service Award for her work in the juvenile justice area.
YLD take a ‘deep dive’ into what is causing mental health issues in the profession
By Jim Ash
The Florida Bar’s effort to improve the work/life balance of attorneys is continuing, as the Young Lawyers Division prepares to distribute a comprehensive mental health survey.
The Board of Governors voted unanimously at an October 12 meeting on Amelia Island to approve distribution of the “YLD Mental Health and Wellness Survey: A Needs Assessment of Mental Health Needs and Available Services for Florida Lawyers.”
“It’s going to take a deeper dive into what is causing mental-health issues in our profession and then we’ll have psychologists help us, before we release those results, come up with solutions and resources to provide to our Bar,” YLD President Christian George told board members.
The survey was reviewed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady and the Bar’s top elected leaders prior to formal approval by the Program Evaluation Committee and the YLD’s Health and Wellness Committee.
“We have addressed all confidentiality and any other reasonable concern, and the survey has been reviewed by dozens of very sharp people and experts,” George wrote to PEC members before submitting it for review. “At best, we will successfully identify common themes of what is causing mental health issues with our constituents and identify resources to assist those struggling — at worst, we will have more data on this very important topic.”
The survey comes in the wake of an ABA survey that suggested lawyers face a higher risk of depression and other mental-health disorders, as well as drug and alcohol use disorders. The ABA report concluded that as much as 20 percent of the nation’s lawyers may be problem drinkers, another 28 percent reported mild or high levels of depression, 19 percent suffer from anxiety and 12 percent reporting experiencing suicidal thoughts.
That survey, along with the suicides of prominent Florida attorneys, prompted the Bar to create a standing Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee to continue the work of a similarly named special committee. The effort prompted members of the special committee to tour the state, including every law school campus. Committee members reported being approached repeatedly by law students who were worried about revealing their mental-health treatment histories on the character and fitness portion of the admissions process.
Some of that anxiety might be relieved soon, George said.
George told board members that the YLD has been negotiating with the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, an arm of the Supreme Court that administers the test and character and fitness review of Bar applicants, to find a solution.
“We’re working to encourage the FBBE to modify their question on the Florida bar exam,” George said. “I don’t know the modifications yet, but they are going to be good.”