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Committee promotes health and wellness resources for judges

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Committee promotes health and wellness resources for judges

The Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee is reaching out to about 1,000 of the state’s judges to remind them of resources to help them deal with the challenges of a high-pressure calling

Judge Nushin Sayfie

Judge Nushin Sayfie

Even in the best of times, managing a judicial docket can be a stressful undertaking. Trials, hearings, motions, filings, not to mention addressing expectations from the parties, can be exhausting.

The Bar’s Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee is reaching out to about 1,000 of the state’s judges to remind them of resources to help them deal with the challenges of a high-pressure calling.

Since its inception, the committee has been focused on bringing resources to Bar members, including a helpline with free counseling services. In the past year, the Judicial Subcommittee chaired by 11th Circuit Chief Judge-elect Nushin Sayfie and 15th Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer, has focused on the specific needs of judges.

“At the end of the day, judges are lawyers, too,” Sayfie said.

She said the subcommittee’s efforts have not been so much at creating something new as assembling and disseminating information about what is available. Coping with the additional stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic make it timely as well.

“The last two or three years, mental health and wellness have been a topic of discussion; we’ve had some pretty profound episodes of lawyer suicides in Miami and elsewhere,” Sayfie said. “With the pandemic, there’s been this added isolation and lawyers are having difficulty and judges are having difficulty.

“It became this perfect storm that we could pretty easily accomplish this task and get people educated on the resources that exist.”

Judge Feuer said an additional benefit is judges are in a position to help when they see lawyers struggling.

“We need to raise awareness of the resources, to remove the stigma round the issue of mental health and let people know if judges see other judges or lawyers in the community suffering mental health issues, there are these free resources available,” she said. “And to let them know their Bar card isn’t going to be in jeopardy if they need assistance.”

The subcommittee came up with a chart that lists resources available to judges — the Florida Judicial Wellness Program operating by the Conference of Circuit Judges, the Bar’s new Florida Lawyers Helpline, Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., and the ABA National Helpline for Judges Helping Judges — as well as how to contact those programs.

The chart was recently sent to all the state’s chief circuit judges by President Dori Foster-Morales and Committee Chair Carl B. Schwait with a request to distribute it to all their judges. In addition, committee representatives, in what Sayfie hopes will become a permanent occurrence, will address new judges at the Florida Judicial College. The committee will also be reaching out in social and other media to spread the word.

The message will be much the same as earlier committee outreaches to lawyers.

“You’re not the first to need these services and you won’t be the last, and we hope you seek out these services rather than have a meltdown on the bench,” Sayfie said.

She said the message might be more useful to older judges and lawyers as many younger lawyers have entered the profession along with the growth of the mental health and wellness movement and the removal of the stigma of seeking help.

“I think they’ve been raised with the idea it’s OK to go into therapy, it’s OK to seek help,” Sayfie said. “The rest of us have grown up in the ‘We suck it up and deal with it generation.’”

The committee wants them to know, “It’s going to be OK to say out loud, ‘You know what, I’m under a lot of stress right now. I need help.’ There are so many people out there who have sought the advice of a therapist along the way. It’s OK to talk about it.”

Added Feuer: “The more that we talk about it, the more it becomes something people don’t fear to seek help for.”

The judicial resources guide is one of many projects of the Committee on the Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers. The committee broadly works to educate lawyers, judges, law firms, and voluntary bar associations about health and wellness issues and resources.

The new Florida Lawyers Helpline, run by CorpCare, was set up in the past year. Because of delays in last summer’s online bar exam, exam applicants were allowed to use the system at no cost through the end of 2020 and Florida Registered Paralegals were authorized to use it as of January 1.

The Resources and Education Subcommittee has assembled lists of speakers available for conferences and CLEs; is working on its own CLEs with priority given to addressing vicarious trauma for assistant public defenders and assistant state attorneys; is preparing a flyer on health and wellness services for the Bar’s new lawyer welcome packet; and is exploring having mini support groups for Bar members.

The Member Benefits Subcommittee is promoting available services, which includes the Florida Lawyers Helpline, Florida Lawyers Assistance, eVideo Counseling, the Calm mindfulness app, and the Fresh Meal Plan service. It is working to line up gym, fitness equipment, and other exercising discounts.

The Webpage Subcommittee redesigned the committee’s page on the Bar’s website, is expanding its use of social media to let lawyers know about the page, and is doing weekly Wellness Wednesday tips that are included in the Bar’s Daily News Summary.

Aside from its one-page primer of resources, the Judicial Subcommittee worked on developing continuing judicial education courses and lining up speakers for the judicial college, and the circuit and county conferences of judges.

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