Message from the President
May 15, 2019
Yesterday, Justice Gascon of the Supreme Court of Canada issued a statement wherein he advised that he has been dealing with mental health issues of depression and anxiety for over twenty years. The full release can be found here: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/news/en/item/6595/index.do
This serves as a poignant reminder that mental illness and mental health issues generally are prominent in our profession. I had a message circulated to you all on Bell’s “Lets Talk Day”, but this is a subject that deserves more than a mention one day or week per year.
We, as a profession, are statistically more susceptible to mental health and addiction issues. In a study of American lawyers published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 12,825 attorneys completed surveys assessing alcohol use, drug use, and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. The findings should be of concern to us no less in Canada than south of the border. 20.6% of the lawyers screened positively for “hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking” and “levels of depression, anxiety, and stress among attorneys were significant, with 28%, 19%, and 23% experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.” The results also disclosed that prevalence of problematic drinking and mental health concerns were more heavily weighted among the junior lawyers surveyed and decreased as both age and years at the bar increased.
I have been a practicing lawyer for 20 years and can honestly say that over that period there have been some pretty dark times. There have been times that I needed to reach out for help and I have no compunction in saying so. I say so because I know that I am one of many who have needed a hand along the way. Sometimes it can be just a chat with a colleague that puts things in perspective, providing more help than that colleague will ever know. For others more formal support might be required.
There is a wealth of support for us through our membership in the Law Society, not the least of which is the fellowship of our colleagues. I have been telling the incoming lawyers at the Calls to the Bar this past year to pick up the phone and call a member of the Bar if you have a problem. I confidently say that the same support would be available if you are asking a question about contract construction or if you just need someone to talk to. Also, the Professionals’ Assistance Program is available around the clock. If you want to talk to someone, call (709) 754-3007 or 1-800-663-1142. Calls are answered live and appointments are booked at point of first contact by qualified professionally trained counselors. Everything is confidential.
I closed my message in January with this, but it bears repeating – none of us are in this alone.
Take care of yourselves,
President, Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador