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YLD works to promote health and wellness

Associate Editor Regular News

YLD works to promote health and wellness

Associate Editor

Silence fell on the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors meeting when a real life story came up of a lawyer in Tampa who drove to the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge one morning this winter, parked his car, and jumped over the ledge leaving a family without a father and husband, and a law firm without a partner.

Michael Orr Quality of life issues and various stories about friends in distress became the main topic of discussion as YLD President Michael Orr made it his mission to do something — particularly after a 2014 YLD Membership Survey revealed 63 percent of participants struggle with balancing work and family, and 39 percent endure high stress.

The YLD will be initiating for the first time in its history “The Florida Bar YLD Health & Wellness Month” in May 2015 to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month, which is recognized in May by the federal government.

“I hope the month starts a conversation on strategies for improving lives,” Orr said. “So that young lawyers can enjoy their chosen careers for a lifetime and encourage others to join a noble profession.”

In May, the young lawyers will be posting daily on social media easy mental health and wellness challenges, specific tips, video clips, and relevant articles. Daily challenges to members may include:

* Take a friend to lunch.

* Catch up with a nonlawyer.

* Invite a senior attorney to lunch.

* Schedule time to do something fun you haven’t done in too long.

* Leave your desk and go get a smoothie.

* Leave your desk and go get a massage.

* Cook a homemade meal tonight.

* Put down the reading for work and pick up some reading for fun.

* Work late tonight and take tomorrow off work.

* Drink those eight glasses of water.

* Finish that personal project you’ve been putting off.

* Exercise.

* Count steps via a pedometer (FitBit, Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, etc.).

* Practice yoga.

* Hit the gym or take a new fitness class.

The main platforms for communication will be Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Members are encouraged to post photos or comments related to the May initiative hashtagged with #livewell. Also, YLD affiliates will be tasked with instituting a quality of life activity, such as no alcohol permitted in conjunction with an event, and planning something fun that focuses on lawyers’ wellness or health.

YLD President-elect Designate Katherine Hurst Miller of Daytona Beach said no matter how serious the level of stress, all lawyers are experiencing some challenges with work-life balance.

“I don’t honestly know why [suicide] was such a topic at our board meeting, but I found it to be really powerful,” she said. “Even in the rare instance, and I think it’s probably less than 5 percent of lawyers that are struggling with something that serious. The other 95 percent of us just think, ‘I wish I were at home right now, or out in nature right now, or on vacation right now.’ We’re all struggling with work-life balance.”

W hat is this health and wellness thing? Is this warm n’ fuzzy or does it get serious? Is it physical or is it mental? Is it time management?

Miller said these were the board’s initial questions.

“There’s a real serious side to quality of life,” Miller continued. “Mental health, desperation, and depression, and while that may affect fewer people than a simple work-life balance, it is so serious that it merits our attention.”

YLD Board Member Zack Zuroweste of Clearwater helped form the YLD May Health & Wellness initiative.

“We hope people will post pictures and interact with us, so that it trends all across the Internet. There are a lot of articles that are written about the practice of law and many of them describe lawyers as having a low quality of life, and I believe that is not true,” he said.

“I hope that this month will highlight the fun things, the wonderful things, the positive things that lawyers do and the fact that we are social people, and that we make communities stronger.

“The issue of mental health is important and it affects lawyers all across the state. Even if you’re a lawyer who doesn’t struggle with mental health issues, you likely know someone who does, or you’re affected in a case or someone else who has mental health issues,” Zuroweste said.

“The purpose of this month is to bring awareness to the topic.”

Miller said when talking about quality of life, the attitude from the older generation is “you’ll get through it. We’ve all been through it.”

“I’m concerned that senior lawyers are going to read [this] article and think, ‘These young lawyers today are not as tough as we were,’” she said. “I hope we are as tough as they were, but something has changed.”

Miller said struggling at the beginning of a career today isn’t simply a rite of passage, and although she’s not sure what today’s pressures are doing to young lawyers, there most certainly are additional or different stresses than those on lawyers of the past. This new stress could be attributed to the interconnectedness of home and office, 24/7 demands of clients and senior attorneys, global competition in the legal market, and the increased burdens of student loans, and lack of job availability.

“I don’t know if it’s better or worse [today], but it’s not the same as 20 years ago,” Miller said. “There are really some areas of concern that are hard to turn off. I’m taking my computer and working on the beach — it’s sort of an unhappy phenomenon.”

Miller said that for anyone whose lives have not been touched by suicide, depression, or desperation, the month may bring much-needed awareness on the table so people can help identify and assist others who may be struggling with these very serious issues.

According to the YLD, the first annual Health & Wellness Month is not the end. The YLD is in the process of reaching out to other sections and committees of The Florida Bar for participation; and will also look for support and involvement from the judiciary, law schools, and the Law Student Division.

Orr said he hopes senior lawyers and judges participate in helping young lawyers around them any way they can.

“In the end, raising awareness is where an initiative like this must start,” he said. “Quality of life is so important to young lawyers. It merits this kind of attention.”

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