Health and wellness committee sets ambitious agenda
An enhanced hotline for distressed lawyers, better member benefits for attorneys looking to boost their well-being, and resources for local bars sponsoring health and wellness events are the priorities this year for the Bar’s Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers.
The committee met at the Bar’s Annual Convention in Boca Raton to lay out its plans for the coming year.
“I’m absolutely excited that here we are going into the third year of the committee’s work since we established it,” said Co-chair and former Bar President Michael Higer, who set up the panel during his year leading the Bar. “We have to continue the conversation, maintain the conversation, and elevate the conversation. This is the number one way to address stigma, which is the major hurdle we have to overcome in mental-health issues.”
Co-chair Carl Schwait, a former Board of Governors member, said the committee has spent two years studying the well-being of lawyers, collecting information, and hosting and supporting seminars. Now members want to focus on three specific areas for the 2019-20 Bar year.
“One question is, should The Florida Bar have what we would call a mental-health crisis hotline,” he said.
Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., has a hotline for lawyers with a wide variety of issues, from substance abuse to mental-health challenges.
“Basically, the committee is going to look into the hotline that FLA, Inc., has as well as a prototype that the state of Georgia has,” Schwait said. “The Georgia hotline is run by a third-party vendor. If you call up, you get a mental-health professional on the phone immediately and if you agree to go, you get six free counseling sessions. They will give you six free sessions, but you have to fulfill your obligation to go to the sessions.”
As are FLA’s voluntary consultations, the Georgia hotline and sessions are completely independent of the state bar regulatory process. While he said the State Bar of Georgia’s program is impressive, Schwait said one drawback, so far, is it isn’t used very much.
“This committee is going to investigate whether we want to have a Georgia-type hotline, whether we should enhance the FLA, Inc., hotline, or whether the Bar should even be involved in any type of crisis/mental-health hotline,” he said.
Added Higer, “I think that’s a very achievable goal for us and to make sure that a helpline is supported by professionals who can give people real-time advice and help as well as refer them to appropriate resources.”
The second subcommittee focus will be on marshaling resources and information and acting as a clearinghouse, “so that we help our local bars with speakers, PowerPoint presentations, documentation, so that each local bar and voluntary bar gets the best program they can get without recreating the wheel,” Schwait said.
Higer said the effort will be a way to share best practices of voluntary bars, sections, and committees that are promoting health and wellness efforts.
The committee’s third goal will be to enhance and publicize member benefits that help Florida lawyers with their health and wellness issues.
Schwait said if a lawyer is reluctant to call a hotline, he or she should still be able to find a therapist or counselor through the Member Benefits Program and make a contact on their own.
The panel’s subcommittees will be meeting at least monthly and the full committee meets again in October at the Bar’s Fall Meeting in Tampa.