There’s Help Out There—Colorado’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers
We became lawyers to help people, make a decent living and enjoy a rewarding profession. We attended three grueling years of law school, made it through the crucible of the Bar exam and then worked long hours establishing our practice.
With the rewards of a law practice can come great emotional and professional strain — not to mention crushing workloads and the pressure of our clients’ causes weighing on our shoulders. Sometimes, the pressures of a legal practice can feel overwhelming.
Over time, this kind of stress takes its toll: depression, apathy, alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, or even health or family problems. Then, the downward spiral truly starts: you grow more disconnected from what you used to find a rewarding and interesting profession; you disconnect from friends and family. You feel like there is no one to talk to who would truly understand what you’re going through.
First, understand that you’re not alone. In fact, a recent Johns Hopkins University study of 104 occupational groups found lawyers had the highest incidence of clinical depression. We are at higher risk for alcohol abuse, too. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 7 percent of Americans are alcoholics. In contrast, about 13 percent of lawyers surveyed by the ABA said they drink six or more alcoholic beverages a day. Substance abuse and depression are frequent underlying causes for attorney discipline.
Perhaps it’s gotten to the point that your partners, or even your spouse, have brought it up. They’re worried about you, they say. Defensively, you reject their expressions of concern and assure them "you’re fine." But you know you’re not fine. You’re drinking too much, or looking for relief in prescription or other drugs.
Maybe it’s not drugs or alcohol, but a growing sense of purposelessness or depression that is overtaking you. You’re not sleeping well, not eating right. You find no joy in things you used to love to do. You can’t go on this way, but what can you do? Where can you turn?
If any of this sounds familiar to you, either as a description of yourself or your law partner, associate, or fellow law student, then take heart — you’ve already taken the first step.
Lawyers don’t come by "self-awareness" as second nature. We’re even more reluctant to intervene when we see our partners, associates, or others struggling with depression or substance abuse. If you have taken inventory of yourself and discovered you have these concerns, or you have decided that someone you care about needs help, you already are farther down the road to better times than you might think.
The next step, whether for yourself or a colleague, is to make the decision to seek help. Climbing out of a spiraling depression or ending addiction are not self-service tasks. Substance abuse is a clinical illness, as is depression. Just as you wouldn’t do your own surgery, you will need a professional to help you do this.
Help is available from at least two sources. It’s as close as the Internet or your phone. It’s confidential. The people on the other end of the line will know what you’re going through, and will know what to do. The first one is Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit dedicated to doing exactly what its name implies: helping lawyers battle depression or other mental and emotional challenges, substance abuse, gambling and other forms of addiction. They are peers — lawyers, like we are — who are ready at any time to help fellow lawyers. Since its inception in 1993 (under their previous name, Colorado Lawyers Health Program), it has have offered peer support programs for the legal profession, including weekly evening meetings, referrals to counseling, educational outreach to firms and law schools, and other services.
The services are free. You can call (303) 832-2233 or toll-free at (800) 432-0977. CLHL is exempt from reporting any lawyer to the Office of Attorney Regulation.
The second one is the Colorado Attorney Assistance Program, an organization that all licensed Colorado attorneys can access. CAAP is administered for the Colorado Supreme Court by Mines and Associates, Inc., a national psychological referral company. CAAP is also a confidential program that has 24 hour telephone availability. The first three sessions with a mental health provider are free.
CAAP and CLHL aren’t just for lawyers suffering from depression, anxiety or substance abuse problems. They are available to help lawyers with a wide range of concerns. They also can help with abuse issues, career issues, child and elder care, credit card problems, death/grief/dying, relationship problems, financial problems, psychological issues, stress and work-related issues. Like CLHL, CAAP is as close as the phone: (800) 873-7138 or (303) 832-1068.
For more information on both of these programs, and others, visit www.cobar.org, click on "Confidential Assistance for Attorneys" on the right hand side of the page under "Quick Links."
You don’t have to go through this alone. It doesn’t matter how deep you feel you’ve fallen, or how far you think your partner or colleague has gone down the vortex of depression or substance abuse. The way back may be a long one, but the journey begins with a single step. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. The folks on the other end have their ropes out for you, whether to help you deal with issues yourself, or to help you help a colleague or loved one get healthy. All you have to do is grab the other end, and start pulling.
Editor’s note: If this article looks familiar, that’s a good thing. This message — that there is confidential help for lawyers experiencing depression, substance abuse and other troubles — is so important that we decided to republish this version of the September 2007 article.