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It's time to put mental health on the docket

Fabian Ruiz

It is no secret to anyone reading this blog post that attorneys are known for having some of the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and stress associated with any profession, along with some of the highest levels of alcohol and drug use, to boot.  This is true despite the fact that, by all outward appearances, attorneys generally enjoy what many would consider “professional success.”  Given the inherent stressors of the profession (relentless advocacy, perfectionism, limitless accountability, high-stakes environment, and student loan debt for many), it is no wonder why the same traits that make for a successful lawyer, without proper self-care, can lead one down the path of destruction.

Personally, I was shocked and saddened when I first heard the news that high-profile lawyer Ervin Gonzalez, who practiced in Miami and was of Cuban descent like myself, committed suicide in his home in 2017.  Mr. Gonzalez’s death was especially shocking because, in the eyes of others, he was the high-profile attorney young lawyers aspired to be, having secured numerous million dollar judgments throughout his storied career.  Yet, despite being a standard setter for the practice of law, and someone that was revered for his professionalism, his involvement in his community, and his mentorship of young lawyers, he could not escape the one statistic of which we are constantly reminded: the suicide rate for lawyers is double that of the general population.

This statistic is particularly alarming given the well documented lack of significant diversity in the legal profession, as well as the additional pressures associated with the learning curve when young lawyers first begin to practice law, which is why members of the YLD may be particularly vulnerable to the mental health concerns that plague the profession.

Despite this, we as young lawyers have an opportunity (as well as an obligation to those entering the profession after us) to reverse the trend, and put systems in place that will help those among us struggling to overcome these challenges in our profession.  I am not the person that has the answers on how to solve these systemic issues, but I will offer the advice that Past-President of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Erica Mason, gave me: don’t be afraid to admit or show signs of weakness, whether they be in your personal or professional life, especially to those that love and care about you most.

Through the Men of Color project, we hope to evaluate the mental health concerns of the legal profession in hopes of taking the first step on the road to eliminating the biases and stigma that is associated with discussions about mental health and well-being.