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Taking Stock on World Mental Health Day

President of The Florida Bar News in Photos

Dori Foster-Morales

From the outset of my legal career I’ve witnessed the toll our profession can take on our mental health, even in the best of times. We often measure success in terms of billable hours or getting our name on the firm’s letterhead, but it’s past time to update this perspective. Professional success can and should coexist with happiness and well-being and our mental health and our ability to represent our clients depend on it.

According to The Florida Bar’s 2019 membership survey, 92% of lawyers experience a great deal of stress – or at least some – in the practice of law. That’s an overwhelming figure. But it makes sense: When your entire career is built around advocating for others and helping to solve their problems, it’s natural that focusing on your own interests could slip to the back burner.

This past Saturday, October 10, was World Mental Health Day. I see no better opportunity to highlight the remarkable strides The Florida Bar has made to help its members combat mental health issues within our legal community, while also looking toward the future to see what more we can do.

The goal of World Mental Health Day 2020 is increasing investments in mental health. It’s a subject that needs to be moved to the top of the agenda for leaders across the board. For The Florida Bar, member well-being has been and remains a top priority to ensure that we set the standard for what organizations in the legal realm and elsewhere can do to support the mental well-being of members and stakeholders. When our members are taken care of, they can better care for their clients and secure the outcomes they deserve.

Earlier this year, when the first wave of COVID-19 broke out in Florida, life as we knew it changed for our profession. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in mid-July, 53% of U.S. adults reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. We at The Florida Bar knew we had to do something to help our members through this unprecedented time. So, we accelerated an already planned member benefit for our members to receive support during this time of all-time-high stress levels.

Through a partnership with CorpCare we fast-tracked the new free member benefit the Florida Lawyers Helpline at 1-833-FL1-WELL(351-9355) so Bar members could call 24/7 to speak with a mental health counselor for personal challenges or a case manager able to assist in dealing with other major stressors like finding child care or a long-term care solutions. Also available is financial counseling to assist with debt management, budgeting, and retirement planning during the pandemic and beyond. Calling the helpline is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL for Bar members, as are up to three sessions per year with a counselor.

The pandemic’s impact on our professional lives and those of our family, friends and associates is unparalleled. With the concept of “going to the office” dissolved in a matter of days, the line between work life and home life all but disappeared. I know I’m not alone in recognizing how much I had taken for granted such simple things as face-to-face chats and time spent with colleagues.

World Mental Health DayDuring August and September, I set out to hear directly from our members during a two-month Virtual Town Hall series, where I “visited” each circuit via Zoom. The town hall meetings gave me and other Bar leaders the opportunity to find out how The Florida Bar could additionally assist members in their practices, as well as in other aspects of their lives, and help us better understand how our community is adjusting during this difficult time. Through participant polls, we repeatedly saw that when given seven options, most said the greatest pandemic challenge was establishing a home life/work life balance with between 17% and 33% identifying that as a major issue. It was followed by two other issues: isolation, identified by 15% to 32% of participants, and technology, raised by between 7% and 25%.

To help alleviate other stressors, we enhanced a COVID-19 Information & Resources page on our website to give members a central place to find updates and resources during the pandemic, including free practice and wellness-related continuing legal education.

In addition to the Florida Lawyers Helpline and COVID-19 resource page, The Mental Health and Wellness Center webpage contains a library of resources including CLE videos, podcasts, meditations, self-assessments, news articles – and additional places to find help if you need it.

For the 2020 World Mental Health Day, I want to highlight the resources already in place and emphasize that we must also work to dissolve the stigma surrounding mental health issues by eliminating the prejudices that discourage many lawyers from admitting problems and getting the help they need. Reducing the stigma for Bar members will change the mental health culture in our community for future generations of lawyers.

This World Mental Health Day, let’s together endeavor to prioritize our mental health and reduce the stigma for others. It shows great strength and courage to ask for help – because when you get the help you need, you’re better equipped to help those around you.

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