Mental Health Options for Attorneys in a COVID World

Julian Gregory
With the challenges lawyers in particular face, sometimes the barrier to treatment is our training.

With the challenges lawyers in particular face, sometimes the barrier to treatment is our training.

FG Trade via iStock

Lawyer Assistance Programs provide confidential services and support to judges, lawyers and law students who are facing substance use disorders or mental health issues. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact your state or local LAP.

Seeking mental health treatment can be a harrowing prospect in the best of times, and those times have long since passed. Although we can hope to return to normalcy, putting your health on the back burner is never advisable.

As attorneys and legal professionals, we face unique hardships. Not only do we face challenging assignments and impending deadlines, but we also burden ourselves with others’ problems, and, regardless of the outcome, our psyches take a hit every time one of our clients suffers.

According to an ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study, lawyers experience higher depression and substance abuse rates than the general population. Unfortunately, lawyers are trained, possibly by way of antiquated character and fitness requirements, that mental health treatment is something to be hidden away, ashamed of, and avoided if at all possible. It is time that we acknowledge our humanity and get the help we need to remain healthy.

Treatment Options

It’s easy to become discouraged in the search for a mental health care provider. Even knowing whether to start with therapy or medication can be daunting. Some providers do not accept certain insurance providers or do not have available appointments for months. If you’re already emotionally taxed and burnt-out, these difficulties might make you want to give up. Or maybe you are concerned about the prospect of physically going into a doctor’s office, especially considering the health risks presented by COVID-19. Thankfully, you have other options to get the treatment you need.

Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs)

Whether for yourself or a colleague, most jurisdictions have a hotline for attorneys to call to seek help for a mental health or addiction crisis. In many cases, these programs are confidential, thereby avoiding any potential character and fitness issues or a possible bar complaint. Some LAPs even offer several free counseling sessions with a licensed therapist.

Confidential Therapy or Other Psychiatric Treatments

Often, the best mental health treatment available is one covered by health insurance. Mental health treatment is likely covered whether you have employer-subsidized health insurance or you have insurance through an exchange or your state’s Medicaid program. Often, the process of checking mental health service coverage and getting information about available covered providers is as easy as a phone call to the number on the back of your insurance card. For the uninsured, or for those of us who want to maintain as little a paper trail as possible, most mental health professionals have out-of-pocket options, as well; however, those can become expensive.

Mental Health Apps

Mental health apps—like Talkspace and BetterHelp—are structured to pay a subscription fee and receive access to a counselor you speak with via text, audio message, or videoconference. These apps may be more cost-effective with a flat monthly rate depending on the plan you choose. They may also offer more flexibility for young lawyers with unpredictable schedules that may conflict with traditional in-person appointments. Many of the app options allow an individual to text 24-7, which can be more accommodating to a lawyer’s hectic schedule. The apps also allow you to send your thoughts as the issues arise rather than remember everything for a later appointment with a time limit. These apps still provide licensed professionals and the same kind of confidentiality as traditional providers.

You Are Not Alone

There is no reason to suffer alone. Professional mental health services are still available, often with a telehealth alternative to ensure both doctor and patient safety. But with the challenges lawyers in particular face, sometimes the barrier to treatment is our training. Take heart in knowing that you are not alone.

Finally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour resource available to anyone who calls. If you find yourself in a dark place, call 800-273-8255.

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Julian Gregory is a solo practitioner focusing on criminal, juvenile, and appellate law in Las Vegas, Nevada. He served as the public attorney for the Las Vegas Municipal Court Mental Health Court for four years and continues to advocate for mental health awareness.