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Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee gets high marks

Senior Editor Top Stories
Roland Sanchez-Medina, Jr.

Roland Sanchez-Medina Jr.

The Board of Governors has signed off on a favorable review of the Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee that includes a recommendation to request a promotion budget for a signature achievement, the Florida Lawyers Helpline.

At a May meeting in Tampa, the board voted unanimously to approve the review, which included a recommendation to raise awareness of its programs and benefits, including the Florida Lawyers Helpline.

“I think it’s clear that we have a special need for this particular service and there’s just not enough people aware of it,” said Program Evaluation Committee Chair Roland Sanchez-Medina.

Sanchez-Medina referred to recommendations that include a presence at the annual Voluntary Bar Leaders Conference and formalizing a collaboration with the Young Lawyers Division and Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., by dedicating permanent committee seats.

Reviewers gave the Mental Health and Wellness Committee high marks, particularly for a website that may be accessed through the Bar’s webpage. (https://www.floridabar.org/member/healthandwellnesscenter/).

“Overall, this subcommittee was favorably impressed with the efforts and achievements of the MHWC Committee,” the reviewers wrote. “In several areas of endeavor, the MHW Committee has done an admirable or outstanding job and this subcommittee wishes to recognize these efforts and suggest they continue.”

The Bar formed the Mental Health and Wellness Committee as a special committee in 2016 in response to an ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation report that found lawyers were at higher risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, alcohol abuse, and other substance use disorders. It became a standing committee in 2020. In addition to Florida Lawyers Helpline, the Mental Health and Wellness Committee’s achievements include recruiting the Florida State Alliance of YMCs to offer Bar members discounted memberships at 124 participating centers in 37 counties, recruited healthy meal plans, and discounted wellness apps.

The committee has also helped promote popular support groups that FLA began offering to law students, lawyers, and judges at the beginning of the pandemic. A weekly “working mothers” support group for attorneys has attracted more than 100 registrants and a core following.

The helpline, a “signature” program, is offered through a contract with CorpCare Associates, Inc., a private provider. It allows any Bar member or Florida Registered Paralegal to call and speak with a licensed mental-health professional for up to three sessions without charge.

“From May 20, 2020, through August 31, 2021, the helpline had 264 cases (meaning 264 lawyers who took advantage of one or more of the three free counseling sessions) at a total cost for the same period of $225,242,” the reviewers found. “This translates to a per-case cost of $966.83, which is likely much more than it would cost to simply underwrite three private therapy sessions.”

The Program Evaluation Committee is waiting for the helpline to be up and running for two years before conducting a separate review. But the subcommittee guessed that “the limited utilization is a function of limited awareness, stigma associated with mental-health issues, and fear of lack of confidentiality.”

The reviewers also noted that the committee lacks a budget for any expenditures.

“Given the apparent, and likely ongoing, need for more publicity, promotion, outreach and collaboration, the MHWC Committee should draft and present a reasonable budget request for funding from The Florida Bar to fund efforts aimed at addressing these needs,” the reviewers wrote.

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