During the holiday season, when we contemplate the end of another year, our thoughts naturally turn to holidays past, friends, family and colleagues who may no longer be with us, and the events of the past year. It’s often a time to take stock of where we are in our lives. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of year filled with unique stressors that can exacerbate or trigger depression, anxiety, and addiction.
For this reason, it’s a perfect time to remember that the staff of our state bar’s Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP) stand ready to assist with these common problems. According to LJAP Director Chip Glaze, the number of new LJAP clients has increased significantly in the past two years, mostly from self-referral, validating the fact that there is “a need out there” for assistance. He attributes the increase in clients to the increase in awareness among lawyers about LJAP’s services. However, he said, “Our biggest issue remains lawyers suffering in silence,” attempting to cope with untreated mental health issues and addiction alone, often with ultimately dire consequences.
Our bar was not spared the tragedy of lawyer suicide and overdose over the past year, nor the heavy guilt that afflicts fellow lawyers who wonder what they could have done to make a difference.
In an effort to alleviate these problems, in October, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller wrote to the chairs of Mississippi’s Judicial Conferences and asked them to encourage their member judges to utilize and promote LJAP’s services among the attorneys practicing in their courts.
There’s no doubt that life as a lawyer can be as stressful as ever, particularly in an increasingly competitive environment. The Mississippi Bar sent a confidential survey to all members in the fall — in conjunction with the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs — to get updated information on the state of lawyers’ health, as the prior data is now over twenty years old. Glaze said that LJAP will have access to the results specific to Mississippi and the overall results of the participating states’ surveys will be published in a scholarly journal. He candidly admitted that he suspects the data will show worsening problems. New data on law students nationwide shows an increase in abuse of prescription stimulants and opiates and binge drinking, he said; however, “our law schools are ahead of the curve” on promoting awareness of these issues, thanks in part to their partnership with LJAP through the years.
Glaze said that the support of the Mississippi Supreme Court has been invaluable. He also noted that judges actually use LJAP’s services, as well as participate as members of the LJAP Committee, along with other volunteers.
The LJAP Committee includes an “active roster” of volunteers and reserves who are available to share personal information about their own recovery, and along with the LJAP staff, help “manage the practical side of going into treatment,” taking into account the logistics necessary for getting help while protecting your client’s interests. The Committee includes lawyers at all levels and types of practice, Glaze said.
Glaze emphasized that the purpose of LJAP is “to assist, not to report,” although he said the perception that contacting LJAP could jeopardize a law license or job still persists. He is hoping that this unfounded fear will be put to rest for good when a pending modification to the rules goes into effect clarifying that there is “no connection between seeking help and your license.” Ironically, failing to seek help for untreated mental illness or addiction “is more likely to cost you your job” than not seeking help, he added.
This year, LJAP launched a new program called Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) to address our fears about not knowing what to do or say when we suspect a fellow lawyer may be contemplating suicide. “Our big push right now is QPR,” Glaze said. CLE credit has been approved for QPR programs to be presented on the coast and in Jackson in the first part of 2015. However, QPR is not just a CLE and not just for lawyers. Glaze said that QPR will be made available to any group, including courts and judges, law firms, rotary clubs, church groups, and others. Participants in the training will learn how to ask “the question” and that asking “the question is the hardest, but most important thing to do, starting the whole process.” By asking the question, you have “provided hope, no matter the reaction,” he said.
In the coming year, LJAP will also be assisting with health and professional issues facing older lawyers as they wind down their practices and transition into retirement. The goal is to allow lawyers to leave the practice of law “in a dignified manner,” rather than dealing with bar complaints, and “find other meaningful ways to use their experience like serving as a mentor” to young lawyers around the state, who often lack role models.
At a minimum, knowing that we have access to our peers in the legal profession who have “been there” confirms that none of us is alone, during the holidays or any other time of year.
To learn more about LJAP, contact Chip Glaze at (601) 948–4475 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Glaze can also put you in touch with a member of the LJAP Committee.