Several days have passed since the world learned the tragic news about the death of the incredibly gifted Robin Williams.
Like so many of us, I grew up watching Mork & Mindy. One of my younger, and annoying brothers, used to love walking around pretending to be Mork. I became a fan of his dozens and dozens of movies as they rolled out over the last few decades. I believe it is safe to say that Robin was one of the most talented and diverse actors in our history. He could make us laugh, cry, feel and wonder. The world wide grieving that is universally heartfelt.
The loss of Robin, like so many whose lives are over way too early, is opening up a dialogue about depression and mental health issues. It is not the first national dialogue, nor will it be the last. The same can be said about the use of drugs, and the many tragedies we hear about as a result of drug addiction. In the case of mental health issues and depression, some critics say it is not real. While many know this is very real, and not a “made up disease.” It is real. It is real in all demographics. It is real at all income levels. It is real in both the white collar population and in the blue collar population. It is real across all professions. And it is very real in the legal profession. Depression does not discriminate.
The problem is, we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to hear about it; we don’t want to see it; we don’t want to admit that we have it or perhaps someone that we love is living with it. I think the bottom line is — we don’t understand it. Perhaps it scares us. Hiding the truth becomes the challenge, while failure is the deep-seeded fear.
MCBA President Steve Modica has already started this conversation. He started with a conversation with Terry Emmens, Chair of the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee. Terry and Steve both agree, we need a working solution, but LCFL does not feel equipped to take on the mental health piece, but instead to focus on helping lawyers that are dealing with drug and alcohol issues. We completely understand that position. They are doing great work and we need them to continue to do that work.
For now, we are going to expand this conversation and invite some dialogue with some of the good people at the 4th Department Grievance Committee, as well as with our own Grievance Committee leaders. We are concerned that we have members that may need our assistance, and want to have a discussion about how best to support them. How do we allow members to feel safe, and not judged by their profession? How do we recognize the signs and symptoms? How do we reach out to them, provide reassurance and a safe environment that allows them to talk about what is going on in their life? How can we help them, their families, their practice?
Many of my bar colleagues share their stories of attending the funeral of a member that could no longer manage their life, and chose to end it. They report the heartbreak that surges through their legal community as they ask: “Did you know?” “Why didn’t we know?” “What could we have done better to intervene and to save this life?” This bar community has experienced this kind of loss, but to the best of my knowledge, not in many, many years. I hope we never have to live through that experience again.
There are many programs and things in the bar world that we are reactive to. On this subject of supporting our members on mental health issues, I would love to see us be proactive. Steve is determined to have a solution or some kind of community partnership in place for us to access for assistance expeditiously when necessary. But in the meantime, we need to start talking about this. We need to get comfortable with the subject and recognize it is a disease.
One of my favorite Robin lines is from Dead Poet Society: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change this world.”
Help us find our words, share our ideas, and help our friends and colleagues.
Thanks for checking in,