Recent studies have shown that the incidence of clinical depression is three times higher in lawyers than in any other group of professionals. Suicide, in fact, is the third most common cause of death in attorneys following cancer and heart disease.
A recent 2016 study found that mental health problems are significantly higher in lawyers than in the general population and that younger, less experienced lawyers have higher levels of distress symptoms than their more experienced peers.
Recognizing this problem, I have worked for many years as a mental health advocate including serving as a volunteer for the S.C. Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers program. LHL provides programs and services for lawyers who suffer from depression or substance use disorders, including referrals, peer support and education.
It is also my privilege to serve on the executive committee for the Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health, which will be held at the Greenville Hyatt, May 12-13.
Sponsored in part by the Greenville Health System, the mission of this symposium is to encourage mental health advocacy and end the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.
The term “stigma” is defined as a “scar” left by a hot iron, a brand or mark of shame or discredit. People with mental illness should not be made to feel as though they have been branded, that they bear a mark of shame. We must work hard to ensure that this attitude dies a quick death.
The Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health agenda includes programs specifically for lawyers. On May 12, 2017, at 11 a.m., Beth Padgett, assistant director of LHL, will deliver a presentation, “Making the Case: Supporting Mental Health in the Legal Profession.”
This session will be followed by a luncheon with keynote speaker, Dan Westbrook of the Columbia office of Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough. Mr. Westbrook’s presentation, “Mental Health Treatment in South Carolina Prisons” reflects his long advocacy for inmates with mental health issues in South Carolina.
In 2005, he represented Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities and mentally ill inmates, resulting in a settlement requiring the state Department of Corrections to improve conditions for those incarcerated with mental illnesses.
South Carolina lawyers are eligible for one hour of ethics/mental health CLE for Beth Padgett’s lecture and an additional hour of CLE for Mr. Westbrook’s luncheon presentation. To register go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/southeastern-symposium-on-mental-health-friday-lunch-with-dan-westbrook-tickets-33739123627.
Our understanding of these problems can play a vital part in helping both lawyers and clients achieve and maintain recovery from mental health issues. Please remember that there is hope, and there is help. You are not alone.
Stuart Mauney is a shareholder in the Gallivan White & Boyd law firm, and serves on the board of Gateway, a local clubhouse which provides services to the chronically mentally ill in the Greenville community. He recently served on the Advisory Committee of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs