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October 2017

Maintain resilience when dealing with a mental health condition

The 2016 research findings from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs included some eye-opening statistics, including:

  • 20.6 percent of respondents “experience problematic drinking”
  • 28 percent reported depression
  • 19 percent reported anxiety
  • 23 percent reported significant stress.

An additional surprise to the researchers was that “these difficulties had a much higher frequency in the first 10 years of practice.”

In the article “How to Maintain Resilience When Dealing with a Mental Health Condition,” in a recent issue of TYL, Tish Vincent writes that coping with mental health concerns can be alleviated by the three As:

Awareness. “Rather than rushing to find a solution to a challenge, develop a desire to become aware of the problem from all angles and in as many manifestations as possible,” she writes.

Acceptance. The next step, she says, is to acknowledge the truth of the situation.

Action. After awareness and acceptance, she writes, you can then take action to deal with the challenge.

Vincent, the program administrator of the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of Michigan, quotes resilience researcher George Bananno, who wrote, “a central element of resilience is perception—how you perceive stress, challenge and adversity directly influence how you will respond to a stress trigger.”

Just as attorneys who have Type 1 diabetes have a health care team in place to help them and know the regimen they need to keep in order to stay healthy, Vincent writes, attorneys with a “known diagnosis” of a mental health condition should take the same approach.

“They have a condition that needs treatment: therapy, a psychiatric consultation, possible medications and possible community support,” she writes.

And just like a diabetic, the struggling attorney knows that when the stress of work starts to take a physical toll, they head to their health care team.

Vincent warns that the biggest hurdle is in seeking help. “Research indicates that attorneys fear being stigmatized by needing help, and they fear that their privacy will not be protected.”

Vincent writes that one way to decrease the stigma of a mental health diagnosis is through education, and she lauds the ABA Resolution 106 passed at the 2017 Midyear Meeting that includes “a requirement for lawyers to receive at least one hour of mental health or substance-use disorder programming every three years.”

As for privacy, health care providers are under strict requirements to keep all patient information confidential. But the fear of being seen at a provider’s office is also real, and for that she recommends calling your state Lawyer Assistance Program.

“LAP knows the properly licensed and credentialed therapists with a track record of working successfully with attorneys,” Vincent writes.

She emphasizes the importance of having a relationship with a primary care doctor and being honest with that physician about emotional, mental and cognitive symptoms troubling you.  She advises putting “your most troubled foot forward” by owning up to your troubles and fears.

One warning sign of developing a mental health condition Vincent calls out is withdrawing from others.

Finally, she lists ways to maintain resilience when dealing with a mental health condition:

  • Take care of yourself with good nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep.
  • Form and maintain a relationship with a primary care doctor.
  • Share your mental and emotional struggles honestly with your physician.
  • “Get a full biopsychosocial assessment if difficulties are increasing,” and see a therapist if that is what is recommended.
  • If your therapist develops an action plan, implement it.
  • Prioritize experiencing pleasure in your life, regardless of the demands of your job. If your position does not allow time for self-care, start looking for one that will.
  • Use your state’s Lawyers Assistance Program as needed.
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