Help is Available. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask.

By Pamela Thibodeau
From Bar Association of Erie County Bulletin – Fall 2019, Vol. 59, Issue No. 1
September 20, 2019

Practicing law can be a tremendously fulfilling and rewarding endeavor. At the same time, it can also be incredibly stressful and damaging to our mental health and overall quality of life. We and our colleagues may all at times struggle with burn-out levels of stress, family problems, mental health difficulties, medical problems, and financial hardship, among other various personal and professional difficulties. 

Recent national studies reveal that too many lawyers experience chronic stress, and high rates of debilitating depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. The groundbreaking 2014-2015 study conducted by the American Bar Association in collaboration with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation revealed for the first time that attorneys in the United States have significantly higher rates of problematic substance use and mental health problems than the general population. Another study reported in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggested that as many as half of all lawyers in the United States will struggle with clinical depression and/or anxiety at some point in their career. 

Most importantly, these studies have found that one of the key problems for attorneys is that they don’t seek help for their behavioral health problems because they fear someone will find out and it will discredit them and possibly affect their license to practice. Often, our natural inclination is to hide the problem and try to struggle through on our own, which often can just make problems worse.

We all know attorneys who have faced difficulties in the profession and have suffered the ill-effects of stress and burnout. Sadly, many opt to struggle alone, and don’t reach out for the help that is readily available, because of concerns about how it will look to the community if they reveal that they are suffering from personal challenges, including mental health or substance use issues. The decision to struggle privately and not reach out for help is especially likely when an attorney is experiencing mental health or substance use issues that are impacting his or her ability to get up and go to work every day and maintain their practice. This is because of the unfortunate reality of stigma and judgment tied to mental health and substance use issues. 

There is a real need for help and support in our local legal community, and the Erie County Bar Foundation is here to offer that help and support in a confidential and non-judgmental manner. The Bar Foundation is here to tell you that help is just a phone call away and other than the Foundation itself, the assistance you will be offered is completely confidential. If you contact the Bar Foundation, nobody at your law firm, in the judiciary, or your colleagues will ever know that you asked for help, or the type or amount of help you receive. All information and communications are kept in strictest confidence according to the mandates of Judiciary Law Section 499, Disciplinary Rule 1-102 and HIPAA.

If you need assistance – or know a friend or colleague who does – please call 852-1777 and ask for Anne Noble, or access the on-line application by clicking here. All services are individualized and kept strictly confidential.