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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 5, 202005:10 AM EST

Mental health: It’s time to be honest about it

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The topic will be the focus March 25 at the JBA members meeting.
Kasey Wagner

By Kasey Wagner, JBA Mental Health & Wellness Committee chair

We are lawyers. That means we are strong, smart, disciplined, determined and unyielding.

Until we run out of steam.

Then we all but collapse under the weight of expectations – our own and those of the people around us.

We may drink alcohol or abuse drugs, we might retreat from friendships, we could throw ourselves into our work and the downward spiral continues.

Surely you have felt it. The pressure. The anxiety. That tense knot coming up from your stomach into your throat. That knot is how my anxiety rears its head.

Or perhaps you are feeling angry, lost, depressed, addicted or numb.

Because our industry places so much value on strength and power, you may think you are alone. Let me assure you, you are not.

The reality is nearly every one of us is facing our own mental and emotional battles daily. Until recently, I thought we had to do that alone. Luckily, I was wrong.

Programs like The Florida Bar’s “Stigma Free YLD” have raised awareness of mental health issues and opened the door for conversations.

On a local level, The Jacksonville Bar Association Mental Health & Wellness Committee is trying to keep the dialogue going as well.

Checking in with yourself daily is a good idea.

Am I clear-headed or foggy? Focused or scattered?

Am I stressed or centered? Content or upset?

Are there parts of my body that hurt more than normal? Why? Or am I feeling great?

How am I relating to others? Am I getting along with people or am I experiencing tension?

A check-in can give you insight into what you may be dealing with on a given day, in addition to what is listed on your calendar.

If something feels overwhelming during your check-in, you should reach out to your support system – your family, friends and your therapist.

When it comes to your colleagues, being aware of mental health also is important. We often spend more time with our coworkers than with family members, so we are well-positioned to notice changes.

In the post-9/11 world, we have heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” I charge us all to apply that to the issue of mental health. If you see someone’s mood change, or behavior pattern change, reach out to them. Ask how they are doing.

That might be difficult. What if you are insulting them? You aren’t. If they are struggling, they will welcome your outstretched hand. If they are doing fine, they will let you know and thank you for caring.

As lawyers, our jobs are not easy. We are professionals who strive to help our clients with their problems.

It is time that we start to address our own problems in an open and honest way. If you need a place to start, try calling the Florida Lawyers Assistance Program at (800) 282-8981.

If you would like to continue the mental health conversation, attend the March 25 JBA lunch, which will feature 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Lauren Brodie speaking about her family’s issues with addiction and mental health. There also will be a session, moderated by Whitney George, where we will discuss mental health triage for ourselves and our colleagues with therapists Caren Coleman and Diana Davis.

Kasey Wagner is an attorney with Morgan & Morgan specializing in nursing home negligence and abuse claims.

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