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Mental Health Awareness Month: Take the steps you need to flourish

President of The Florida Bar Columns
Dori Foster-Morales

Dori Foster-Morales

My term as president began in the middle of a global pandemic that catapulted our familiar, traditional way of work into our makeshift home offices — for many of us — our kitchen tables. We went from frequent in-person interactions with co-workers and clients to only seeing each other through a tiled screen. Going into my presidency, I always knew mental health and wellness initiatives for our community would be at the top of my agenda, but the upheaval of our routines created an even greater need.

As you may have noticed from the Bar’s social media, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there is no better opportunity to highlight the strides we have made as an organization to better serve the mental wellness of our members, and recognize the breakthroughs still needed to truly dissolve the stigma around mental-health challenges.

The stigma, and sometimes shame, surrounding mental health leaves many in the legal community, and in most communities, feeling reluctant to take steps toward getting the help and treatment they need. At the Bar, dissolving the stigma is at the core of our mental-health initiatives — if we don’t feel comfortable acknowledging our mental-health struggles, we’re much less likely to take the necessary steps to overcome them — including talking to others.

I feel such pride for the work that our Young Lawyers Division has accomplished through its #StigmaFreeYLD campaign to share stories of how our members (both old and young) have benefited from recognizing their struggles with mental health and utilizing the resources available to them. While this campaign was an endeavor of our YLD, its application resonates far beyond young lawyers to more senior practitioners who may feel the stigma more intensely due to previous norms and conceptions about mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years — therefore, focusing on our mental wellness must be a lifelong commitment. That statistic coupled with the inherent stress that comes with practicing law means we would be foolish to believe that we don’t have members struggling with untreated mental-health challenges at this very moment.

According to NAMI, an estimated 48 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. It’s clear that none of us are immune to stress — no matter our age — and how we handle it is a significant indicator of the state of our mental wellness. Thankfully, because of the incredible contributions and initiatives of our Health and Wellness Committee, there are a wealth of resources available to our members on The Florida Bar’s website:

  • The Florida Lawyers Helpline, a free, confidential 24/7 lawyers helpline with professional counselors just reached its one year anniversary and has proven to be an incredible avenue for our members who are looking to speak to a licensed mental-health counselor.
  • During the pandemic, LegalFuel launched a COVID-19 CLE Support Series that is free to Florida Bar members and can help us navigate the uncertainty of our times.

But mental health goes far beyond what’s going on in our brains — there are emotional, psychological, social, and physical components, as well. In addition to the great tools above, there are other actions you can take to ease your stress levels and anxiety: Consider these coming months as an opportunity to get outside, take regular walks, or pick up nutrient-dense foods at your local farmers’ market; now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, visit your loved ones or start planning that long-awaited vacation; write in a journal; or make a commitment to participate in your favorite hobby or start a new one. It’s amazing what small changes can do to improve our overall wellness.

As we progress through Mental Health Awareness Month and approach the end of our Bar year, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to making mental health and wellness a top issue for our membership. From our Mental Health and Wellness Committee and the YLD team, to our Communications department for spreading the word, to all of our members who supported these endeavors. I truly believe these efforts have made a difference, and while I know there is more to do, I look forward to building on this amazing momentum in the months and years to come.

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