For some, this holiday season is the happiest time of year. While for others, it is a very difficult time of year. Difficult for many reasons. Perhaps there is sadness over loss of loved ones; perhaps folks are impacted by job loss, financial hardship, poor health or some other life event. For some, the holidays can bring on what is termed “seasonal depression.”
For me, like for so many of you, the holiday season is crazy busy with work related events and activities, all while trying to plan for the return of family. With Christmas exactly one week away, a little panic is starting to kick in. Gifts are not wrapped, nor are they under the tree, since the tree is barely up, and being completely honest, not even purchased. Though the pre-lit tree is out of the box and vertical; lights are working. Ornaments rest near by in a box waiting for me to bring them out and arrange. There are cookies though for Santa, thanks to a friend that left a plate of Christmas cookies on my front porch the other night. My first thought was to bring them to the office, but thanks to so many of you, there has been no shortage of holiday treats for the MCBA team. So instead, I wrapped them and put them in the freezer. At some point I will pull them out and impress the kids with them; they may even believe I made them!
Oh yes, the kids! Well, now they are young adults. Aidan has finished his fall semester at Brockport, and looking forward to the return of his siblings to Rochester. Claire will be in from Boston on Sunday. Both she and Aidan are ready for a break from school and exams. Brian arrives in from Nashville on Monday evening. He has not been home since last Christmas, and my one attempt to get to Nashville this year came at the same time he had to be in Florida at the PGA School. I am really looking forward to once again having all three of them under a single roof, though sharing them with my large family, and all their friends, requires me to be patient and understanding. But overall, this holiday season is a very happy one for me.
But for many people it is not a happy time. For many in our legal community, this is a very difficult time of year for some of the reasons mentioned above, and for other reasons we don’t know. The mental health of the legal profession has been talked about hundreds of times over my 13+ years. Our focus has been on the support of attorneys dealing with alcohol and drug-related issues through our Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Program, great work by Terry Emmens and his dedicated committee. But we have never had a program in place to assist attorneys dealing with stress, work life balance, depression, post traumatic stress syndrome, or any other mental health related issues. The stress level within the legal profession is considered one of the highest in all professions. As attorneys, you are masters at solving the problems of your clients, and for your local bar association executive director as well. In addition, you are taking care of your families (perhaps parents, children, even siblings and aunts and uncles) your colleagues, your community and other civic responsibilities.
Somehow, you have to accomplish all of this in a single 24 hour day. If you are busy working, managing the lives of those around you, it may mean that you are not managing your own life. Life begins to feel out of control, and you become your last priority.
The MCBA wants to help, and leading this charge is our President Steve Modica, with great support from our President-Elect Neil Rowe. Together, the three of us have met with countless people that know far more than we do on this topic including the great team at the 4th Department Grievance Committee. In addition, we have met with the bar leaders from the Bar Association of Erie County, where they have developed an incredible program to assist their lawyers dealing with mental health issues. And we have met with more really smart lawyers and social workers here in town, all sharing in our commitment to develop a program and to begin the dialogue that talking about depression and mental health issues is okay. We can’t be afraid of it, nor ashamed of it. There are solutions.
So the gift to the members this week came in the form of the Board of Trustees unanimously approving a proposal from the President to establish a Health & Well Being Task Force to begin to establish a program. I am not certain I have seen any new initiative pass with such swiftness and with such solidarity as this program. This new effort will be chaired by a very dedicated team of bar leaders — Cheryl Heller and Brad Kammholz. Both Cheryl and Brad feel very strongly about the importance of this initiative, and are ready to spend the time on it.
There are several members that feel so strongly about this initiative, that they have already made a restricted gift to the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar to be used specifically for this program. I am aware of several other donations that are already in the works.
So at this morning’s Foundation Board meeting, led by President Bruce Lawrence, Steve presented a short overview on the Health & Well Being Program, talked about our research to date, and plans for the future. We also spoke about the donations that had already been received for this gift, with anticipation of more. Like the Board of Trustees, Bruce and the Foundation Board were most grateful for the report, news of the gifts, and look forward to hearing more.
After the meeting broke up, I returned to my office reflecting on the two very big board meetings this week, and the decisive leadership I witnessed at both meetings. In all, 35 bar leaders, in two separate meetings, on two separate days, but all committed to one mission — helping their friends and colleagues. Chances are they know someone that may be battling a mental health challenge, and most likely, we would all be surprised by those that we do not know. My hope is that in time, as we begin to learn more, dialogue openly, create resources and supports, find solutions for the challenges, that as a legal community we will come together on this issue that should matter to every single one of us.
I am feeling pretty grateful this holiday season because of what I witnessed this week. My hope is that through this message, you are also feeling grateful to the Bar and Foundation leaders for coming together on this important issue. If you are feeling grateful and want to join the cause, there is time before the end of the year. Visit http://www.mcba.org/Foundation/Donations/.
To all of you, thank you for another incredible first 6 months of this bar year. My wish for all of you, is peace, good health and rest during this season: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa. This is the last blog of the 2014 year. My sincere thanks for checking in as I look forward to 2015.