- Member Services
- Member Search
- TBA Member Benefits
- Government Affairs Update
- Law Practice Management
- Legal Links
- Local Rules of Court
- Opinion Search
- Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct
- Update Information
- Celebrate Pro Bono
- Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative
- Government Affairs Update
- Law Student Outreach
- Leadership Law
- Public Education
- TBA Academy
- Tennessee High School Mock Trial
- TBA Mentoring Program
- Tennessee Youth Courts
- TBA Groups
- ABA Resource Committee
- Attorney Well Being Committee
- Access to Justice Committee
- CLE Committee
- Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Ethics and Professional Responsibility
- Governmental Affairs Committee
- Leadership Law
- Legal-Medical Relations Committee
- Long Range Planning
- Mentoring Committee
- Public Education Committee
- Tennessee Bar Journal Editorial Board
- Unauthorized Practice of Law
- Special Committee on Law Practice by Foreign Lawyers
- Leadership Law Alumni
- Tennessee Legal Organizations
- Young Lawyers Division
- YLD Fellows
- TBALL Class of 2014
- Access to Justice
- Access to Justice Committee
- Attorney Web Pages
- Celebrate Pro Bono
- Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative
- Corporate Council Pro Bono Initiative Award Nomination
- Apply for a Corporate Council Pro Bono Initiative Grant
- CCPBI Sponsorship Information
- 2014 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2013 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2012 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2011 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2010 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2009 CCPBI Award Winners
- 2008 CCPBI Award Winners
- Disaster Relief Resources
- Finding an Attorney
- Hometown Support: Legal Help For Our Military
- I Want to Do Pro Bono
- Justice for All
- Member Search
- The TBA
A Way Out
Lawyers’ Assistance Program is Free, Confidential and Waiting for Your Call
Note: Names have been changed of people in recovery who were interviewed for this story to protect their identities.
Lawyers argue, bargain and negotiate for a living, so it’s not a surprise that what makes lawyers good at their jobs makes them poor patients.
“Addiction and mental health issues are not negotiable. Either you have them or you don’t,” says Stephen Watts, a counselor with the Foundations Recovery Network. Often when lawyers come to treatment, they are argumentative, he says, with an attitude of “You have to show me, to prove to me that I have that disease.”
A big step in that direction is often taken through the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP), a state-funded — yet confidential and free — impaired lawyers program, which was set up by Rule 33 of the Rules of The Supreme Court of Tennessee.
But statewide help like that has only been available for about 12 years — and its impetus was the suicide of a prominent Memphis lawyer.
‘We didn’t know what to do’
“My law partner committed suicide in 1986,” Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder says. “We all knew there was something wrong, but we didn’t know what to do about it. There wasn’t anybody to call. He was seeing a mental health professional, but it wasn’t enough. You don’t know what you are seeing, but you know something is wrong.” Holder pauses, recalling her partner and Memphis lawyer, John Dice.
After his death, Holder and others realized that they “each had had bits and pieces of the puzzle, and we should’ve talked to each other. We could’ve helped.”
With no network, nowhere to turn, Holder and several other Shelby County lawyers created a local program, Lawyers Helping Lawyers (LCL). That was one of the pieces of what is today the nationally respected program within the state Supreme Court, TLAP. Without it, the following stories likely would have had very different outcomes.
Undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder Led to Work and Drug Addictions
“Jim,” a Tennessee lawyer at a “fairly senior career level” in a private civil litigation practice, fits Watts’ description, trying to work the system even after he was in treatment. Now Jim talks comfortably about his hellish past, as if it happened to someone else.
“Like most people with bipolar disorder, I’m very obsessive and compulsive. A control freak. Perfectionist. Hypercritical. The mind tells you if you can control things you’ll be safe,” he explains.
“You put somebody like that into the rough and tumble of life, and especially the rough and tumble of the adversary system — like a litigator in private practice — and we don’t react too well to that. We tend toward addictive behavior.”
Of course he didn’t know all of that — or even that he was bipolar — when it was raging years ago. Not knowing what was driving his moods, he threw himself into his work, and then when the “work high” was no longer enough, he began self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. His work addiction, he explains, involved using a stressful work environment as a drug.
It’s a fine line between being a hard worker at your job because you like it or to make a good living, and working for the purpose of emotional sustenance, Jim says. “It becomes an addiction just like anything else. You are working hard to change your brain chemistry to trigger the release of chemicals to make you happy. If you work to be happy, then you may have a problem.”
At first, it achieved the purpose. “If I was feeling the effects of the depressive side of the bipolar, it took away the pain,” Jim says. “Not the best way to do that, but it worked.”
At least for a time. “After a while you are not choosing anymore to use the stuff. It becomes a dependence. If one pill is good, 10 is better. That’s what makes an addict different. It takes more and more to achieve the same feeling of well-being, so the more you have to have.”
Although he was not arrested, fired or in trouble with the Board of Professional Responsibility, by that point he says it “was just a matter of time.” His wife was dealing with similar issues of her own, and she and their kids – ages 13, 15 and 20 at the time — did not want to have anything to do with him. He was 49.
In late 2003, he says his behavior was spiraling down so much that in the beginning of 2004 his firm performed an intervention on him.
“Everybody around me could see I had a problem,” Jim says. “I didn’t think so. My firm said ‘we like you, but not the way you are now. If you want to have a future here, you’re going to have to do something about your problem.” The members of the firm had talked to TLAP already and they had given guidance, so they knew to take him to a psychologist who ran the local recovering lawyer group.
“I was pretty far gone, but by the grace of God there was barely enough left in me that cared, that the thought of going the rest of the way down the tubes — job, license, making a living — was just still there barely enough that I realized I better do what they were saying. So I said OK.”
Or at least appear to do what they were saying. “I was in major denial,” he says. “My plan was to do what people were making me do and get them off my back. I thought ‘I’m not going to stop living that way but I won’t go so far again that it gets everybody riled up.’”
What TLAP Does ... and Doesn’t DoThe Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) will help you deal with any issue, including (but not limited to):
You don’t need a diagnosis to receive help from TLAP.
Most clients are not disciplinary referrals but are connected to them by family members, law partners, anonymous reports, or they are called by the person seeking help. All calls are confidential, unless such disclosure is authorized by the member of the legal profession to whom it relates or as provided in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 33.07(B). If a referral comes to TLAP from the Board of Professional Responsibility, it likely is no longer confidential. This is another reason to seek help early.
The services are free, confidential and available to lawyers, judges, law students and bar applicants who are dealing with the issues themselves or have family or partners with the issues. Being in a relationship with someone who has these issues can make you as sick as if you had that same condition, they say, so they’ll help you with that, too.
Jim says he was foggy when he started treatment but continued to try to be in charge. “I didn’t deny that I’d made a lot of bad decisions but I didn’t understand that I didn’t have control anymore, that it had a grip on me all the way down to a subconscious level.” In the second week of treatment the doctor told him that if he wanted to live he could never use any kind of mood-altering substance again. Never.
“My reaction was from deep in the chest — it was like telling me that all the oxygen would be gone. It was panic. That’s when I started to realize I was in the grips of something much more powerful than me and I was not going to be able to fix it on my own. After that I became a better patient and started listening. I quit thinking I could be my own doctor.”
After seven weeks in treatment, Jim signed a TLAP agreement, worked with a monitor, went to 90 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in 90 days, and did what people told him to do. Like many who come through the program, Jim is now friends with the man who was his monitor, and he brings a message of hope to others as he now volunteers with TLAP and sponsors lawyers newer to recovery. But he stays away from bars and continues to go to AA meetings even though he says it’s been years since he has had any desire to do drugs.
“Some people have euphoric memories of good times. I really don’t. The strongest memory I have is from waking up from a time I crashed and was controlled by this incredible appetite — having my day completely overcome by one specific craving. That’s my memory, and I don’t want to go back to that.”
These programs work, Jim says. “I believe in them. I can’t explain why they work, but they do.” He cautions that it is a life-long process, though, and that once in recovery a person must continue working the program. “Someone will quit working the program — they’ll think they’re cured — and we won’t see them for a while. Or we’ll read that they died.”
On the day Jim returned to work at his old firm in 2004 after treatment, he was nervous. “You talk about shame. I don’t know how I made it into the building,” he says, recalling the lunch meeting they had planned for him as a welcome. “Everything was out of my control. I had screwed up. I felt such shame.” So when he walked in and everyone in the room stood up and applauded for him, he could not believe it.
“They treated me better than I deserved,” he says of the firm where he still practices today.
The day of the interview for this story, Jim’s grown daughter had just been to his law office, bringing him lunch that they shared together. His wife, who received help for her addictions soon after he did, is also in recovery. He says his family has completely turned around. “My children tell me all the time how proud they are of me,” he says.
“If I had to go through everything I went through to get what I’ve got today, I’d do it.”
The Roots of the Program
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder explains that the early, all-volunteer assistance programs in the state’s major cities were very different models than today’s Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP).
“[Memphis’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers program] was just a group of people who received referrals. I would get a call and if it looked like something that needed to be addressed we would go talk to the person, do an intervention. We found it was a good way to get people’s attention.” Holder was chair of the Memphis group, followed by Hon. Robert L. (Butch) Childers, who now is chair of Amercian Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.
Holder recalls that Judge Harry Wellford of the 6th Circuit was part of the original group, and she saw that having a judge involved helped a lot when setting up meetings with people who otherwise might not want to meet.
“I mean, you weren’t going to say you weren’t going to see Harry Welford. It was a powerful tool,” she says.
It’s a tool she did not forget after she became a judge and was named to the Tennessee Supreme Court 10 years later. “When I got to the Supreme Court one of my goals was to get a statewide [assistance] program. I don’t think it was looked on particularly with favor by our court at the time,” Holder says, but she recounts a retreat with the members of the court in 1998 where a leader from Texas’s lawyer assistance program spoke.
“It was a very powerful presentation. When he left, everyone looked at each other and said ‘how fast can we get this done?’” The court immediately began the process of creating what would become Rule 33, which was adopted just months later, in January 1999. [For more on this, go to http://tlap.org/history.htm.]
It Really Is Confidential
Holder talks about the program as if she is still in the middle of it, but she is not — at least not with the details. So if you are concerned that one of your Supreme Court justices would know about your involvement if you ask for help, don’t be. Although TLAP is a state agency within the Administrative Office of the Courts, by rule, the people who work there cannot and will not disclose your information to anyone. They take that very seriously.
“The beauty of what we have is that it is confidential. It is a vast improvement over the previous models across the state,” Holder says. Where they used to rely on people on the committees to field referrals and do interventions, now there is a group of professionals who handle the day-to-day operations. “They are not lawyers; they are professionals in their field. That’s the strength of our system,” Holder says. And although TLAP is part of the court system and Justice Holder is the organization’s liaison to the court, it has its own separate space, nowhere near the courthouse.
“Names are not discussed with TLAP commissioners,” Holder points out. “It’s not necessary to know who the clients are. The commission is the policymaking arm that makes recommendations to court for changes. But there is a wall there.
“You can’t emphasize that enough,” she says. “It’s confidential.”
Casinos and Cocaine
Driving from his downtown Memphis law office to Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Miss., took exactly 39 minutes, “Thomas” recalls, at least the way he did it. Speeding west on I-40, he was not focused on anything but placing that first bet. It started relatively small — $200 bets — but like any addiction, after a while he needed more.
Thomas explains that for someone addicted to gambling, the brain releases dopamine just like when you take drugs, and you get high off the dopamine.
“I would bet on anything. In the end of my addiction I ended up betting $2,000 a hand for Blackjack. I would put $5,000 or $10,000 on one spin of the roulette wheel,” he says. “And I don’t have that much financial means.”
The folks at TLAP, whom Thomas did not know at the time, report that the only calls they get that involve gambling are from West Tennessee. Right across the Mississippi, of course, the glitzy and alluring casinos are legal and thriving.
Thomas’s law partners, at first, were impressed. They would all go to Tunica to play golf for the weekend and do a little gambling while they where there. They thought he was a whiz, winning fortunes. “But you never tell people when you lose money,” he says.
One time he went to the casino with $1,000 and walked out with $47,000, he recalls. “I was high as anything,” he says. He thought he then had the system figured out, that he “knew how to be a gambler.” But within five weeks he had lost all that plus another $25,000. “Even in the moments when I lost money, I was so high from the experience I believed I could win it back.”
It took about a year for the gambling highs to not be enough, but he found that cocaine had a similar, more powerful effect. “You don’t start out with excessive gambling. You might even be responsible. That first rush of gambling eventually wears off, much like a drug.” He only used a little bit of cocaine the first time.
It was a slow crash, so slow that he didn’t see it happening. In fact, in law school he was just a casual drinker and was involved in athletics as a college baseball player.
“I was always running 100 miles per hour,” he says, and then he sustained a sports injury. He was given prescription pain medications and liked them.
“I had a very high-energy, very stressful job in a large Memphis law firm. I was a young associate, moving up to become partner. That energy from working those long hours felt good to me; I didn’t get stressed out by it,” Thomas says. “Partners could count on me. [The work] was done, and done right. That kept me going, but when the crisis situation would go away, I would feel completely empty.”
What he didn’t know then was he had bipolar disorder that was causing him to cycle in and out of depression and mania.
“When I was in manic modes, I was very productive as a lawyer, at home, and I felt like things were in order.
When I went into the depression stage, I needed something to get me going. I would use exercise, athletic events,” he says. “Then I discovered gambling.”
Thomas had not noticed the cycles because they would typically flow with his work — he’d be manic during a trial or conclusion of a case, and then he would crash, sleeping for an entire weekend. He told himself he was just exhausted from the trial or from a recent argument with his wife. “I had no idea there was this other diagnosis, because I’d been productive,” he says. “I would tell myself ‘This is just the stress of life, of being a lawyer.’
“As lawyers we are trained to focus on and fix other peoples’ problems. We are not supposed to have issues; we’re supposed to fix things.”
Thomas depleted his 401k account, $60,000 equity in a house, a $25,000 equity line of credit with a bank, and took out loans directly from casinos. He estimates he owed casinos more than $40,000, losing a total of more than $200,000 — in addition to losing everything he won.
Eventually he “crashed,” and was found on the floor of a casino, overdosed on alcohol and cocaine. “Right before that I had made a $15,000 wager on one hand of Blackjack, drank a bottle of bourbon, and passed out on the floor.”
A Memphis lawyer intervened upon him with his family and with support of TLAP, Thomas says. He was hospitalized and sent to treatment. After that he was working in Memphis again, with a different firm, and was struggling, “trying to maintain sobriety; lying about drug tests and secretly going to casinos.”
For about a year or two, he says, he was “in and out of sobriety and in and out of treatment.”
During that time he thought of killing himself at least three times, and acted on it once. “I thought many nights, ‘I don’t want to live anymore.’”
Who Is Getting Help?Of the legal population seeking assistance from TLAP, 66% are lawyers, 3% are judges and 31% are law students. Since TLAP’s inception in 1999, 377 lawyers, judges, bar applicants and law students have signed a monitoring agreement. Currently, there are 318 active files. The people seeking help are 74% male, 26% female; 51% are from Middle Tennessee, 23% are from East Tennessee, 22% are from West Tennessee and 4% are from out of state. Substance abuse makes up 46% of clients, with 54% presenting with mental health issues. Of those with substance abuse issues, 40% are alcohol-related, 22% are cocaine-related and 30% are from prescription drugs. Referrals come from many sources: 48% are third-party (family, law partners, law schools, etc.), 36% are self-referrals, 13% come from the Board of Law Examiners and 3% are from the Board of Professional Responsibility. TLAP’s annual budget is $415,900.
Sources: TLAP 2010 Annual Report and ABA CoLap 2010 Comprehensive Survey of Lawyer Assistance Programs; Memphis Judge Robert L. (Butch) Childers, chair.
After losing $20,000, Thomas left the casino floor, “snorted a bunch of cocaine and went out to the casino water tower. I got caught trying to climb up it. I was going to jump.”
The casino’s manager asked the police not to report him, Thomas says, because he was a “high roller.” The manager helped get him sober — and then extended him another line of credit.
His relapse that third time “was very public,” he says, and while he was in treatment, his wife filed for divorce. “It seemed like I had utterly destroyed my life and the lives of my loved ones and my career. My law practice, family life, personal relationships with friends suffered until the point that no one knew what to do,” he says.
“Then I finally decided I was ready to get clean and sober. TLAP saved my life. They really did. In spite of the wreckage I created, several lawyers and judges and others got involved and saved my life.”
When he left treatment the last time, he had no home, no car, having signed a divorce decree that gave what little was left to his wife. He moved in with his parents for a while to decide what to do. Then he moved to Nashville, living in a halfway house for more than a year.
Today, Thomas works as an admission counselor at a treatment center near Nashville. He is still licensed to practice law but chooses not to. “I am at peace with what I do. I have a good life. I’m financially responsible again,” he says.
“Initially when I decided to get sober, the focus every day and every hour and every minute was just not to take a drink. As I have gone along in my recovery I have learned that staying clean and sober and getting into recovery is not necessarily about alcohol or drugs. It’s about how to live … how to live a healthy life in every aspect.”
The night before this interview, Thomas tells how he had spent the night in the emergency room for nine hours, “holding the hand of another lawyer who was in acute alcohol detox — and years ago that was me.”
“I’m not overtly very religious,” Thomas says. “But God has given me a gift. I’m lucky to be here in this life. I’m lucky to take [my 10-year-old son] to baseball games, to play Pokemon with him. He’s got his dad. I get to see him on weekends,” he says. “I didn’t know I’d ever be able to do that again.”
You Just Can’t Fix Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Be Fixed
“Mary” sought help from TLAP because her boyfriend of 16 years was an alcoholic. “His alcohol was interfering with my life and taking an emotional toll on me,” she admits now. “I always had a crisis in my head.”
She worked on her own for a long time to fix it. “I was using what lawyer skills I had to try to mitigate his problems to help him out,” she says. “My friends’ solution was to say, ‘Get away from him.’ But it was more complicated than that. It’s not easy to step back from someone.”
Asking for help can be especially hard for lawyers. “As a lawyer, if a person comes to you, you try to intercede. There are 10,000 things you do to help if a client comes to you. You are a problem solver. Stepping back is counterintuitive to practice of law. But eventually you realize you can’t help everybody. It’s not healthy to run their lives for them.”
But Mary, a government lawyer in Nashville in her mid-50s, didn’t know all that early in the process. “He kept getting sicker and I was getting sicker along with him. I didn’t know what to do. The first impulse is to tell the person how to correct himself. When they don’t do it, you want to do it for them. But when you try to protect a person from the consequences of their actions, you cripple them. You make them worse.”
She learned that wisdom in Al-Anon, which is one of the groups that TLAP’s Laura Gatrell recommended she attend. “I told her what was going on with me,” Mary says. “I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life anymore.”
She didn’t think of calling TLAP on her own, though. A lawyer friend told her she should call, but she thought it was just for lawyers with drug and alcohol problems. “[TLAP is] a whole lot more than that, though. And I was at my teachable moment and ready to listen to what somebody had to say about how I could feel better.”
A Suicide Survivor Says What She Wished She Had SaidAlthough you may feel that things are hopeless, assume that there is relief for your problems and you can get help. Nothing is more important than getting help. You may not be doing your best thinking at the moment you are contemplating suicide given the pain and pressure you are under.That’s a reason to get help before acting.
You should know that suicide has multiple victims. Suicide will not help your family. It will leave family members and loved ones forever wishing for a different result, wondering how they failed you. It hurts everyone around the victim in ways you, if you are thinking about suicide, cannot even contemplate. Suicide is not romantic. It is not pretty. It does not leave the message that you might expect: the death supersedes any message you might wish to leave. No method of suicide is any less painful to survivors than another. — “Mary”
After she sought help, Mary started volunteering at TLAP regularly and attended “Camp TLAP,” an annual retreat for clients, volunteers, commissioners and their families. Because in her line of work she sees a lot of people with mental illness, she was interested to learn about the high incidence of suicide among lawyers and ways in which TLAP could be involved in helping with prevention. In 2006, she and others were trained to lead suicide prevention workshops called QPR (which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer). She began volunteering with the suicide prevention program, helping give workshops to law students, lawyers and judges about the warning signs, symptoms and how to ask the question “Are you considering killing yourself?” (If the person answers yes, they teach them how to get help, either by referring directly to TLAP or a hospital.)
Mary was doing better, she says, but she knew her boyfriend was getting worse. “Until a person is ready to get help, all of the insistence from people isn’t going to mean much,” she counsels. “You can’t talk an alcoholic into sobriety.”
And in 2007 — two years after she had sought help for alcoholic codependency, and after a full year of teaching others about suicide prevention — her boyfriend committed suicide.
She discovered his body. “I had to tell his mother he was dead,” she says.
With his suicide, Mary was able to apply concepts she had learned two years earlier. “When I first went to Al-Anon, I had the impression it was a program to tell me how to ‘fix’ the alcoholic in my life,” she says. “I was wrong. What I learned was that I had to work on myself. I did learn to not accept responsibility for someone else’s life. I learned that I could love someone by letting him accept the consequences of his actions, and that by experiencing those consequences he has an opportunity to get better.”
There are many different reasons people consider suicide, getting to a point where they don’t have any hope. “Sometimes they think the people around them would be better off if they weren’t there anymore. That is so wrong,” Mary says. “There is hope.”
For those who are left, she points out, there is a lot of guilt. “You ask yourself constantly, ‘What could I have done to prevent the death? Why didn’t I see the signs? Why didn’t he come to me for help?’ No sole incident is the cause of suicide, and no sole person is the sole influence in another person’s life. Still, you always have the doubt.”
There is also a lot of red tape, like dealing with the police, the medical examiner, notifying family, friends and business associates and taking care of the estate. And, Mary says, “You spend time being asked to explain the unexplainable.”
Mary is using the shock, sadness and grief to help her as she counsels others through TLAP. “It has helped me to understand the profound sadness and some of the difficulties that people go through. I started looking at suicide from a different direction.”
You don’t have to do it alone ... even if it takes more than one try
It’s that kind of empathy that you will find at TLAP. If you call, you will likely talk to one of the program’s four employees first. Executive Director Laura Gatrell, Deputy Director Ted Rice, Clinical Outreach Coordinator Jessica Copeland, and Program Coordinator Emily McClendon work with about 250 volunteers across the state who are part of the TLAP volunteer network of lawyers and judges. (Copeland points out that judges who are active in TLAP are not all in recovery. “They are just concerned, caring individuals, who happen to be in a position of power,” she says.)
“We provide a safe container for people to let their guard down and talk about what’s really going on,” Rice says. The counselors at TLAP will develop a detailed plan for how to alleviate the condition, and we will provide follow-up. “We’ll work with the person as long as they want to work with us,” he says. “You don’t have to do it alone.”
Copeland agrees. “We have been able to help. A lot of lives have been changed.”
Gatrell started her counseling career working with teens, and she admits that working with lawyers was not originally her first choice.
“I had an attitude that I had gotten into this field to help people, and in my mind lawyers were a privileged group,” she says now. “It was astounding to me how devastated lawyers can get.” She sees the bigger picture, too.
“Helping a lawyer has an impact on the community. The ripple effect is huge. I have been so moved by their personal stories — and the rewards are there every day. I see people’s lives change, and then they turn around and help others. I love coming to work every morning.”
An attorney, judge or law student who takes care of herself first is better able to care for his clients, Rice says, likening that to the instructions you get before an airline flight. “Put your own oxygen mask on first.”
TLAP’s clients generally have never sought mental health services before, and most folks who come are hesitant to see a therapist, the staff agrees. Notably, the program has gotten more clients in the last three or four years with “depression as a result of complicated stress.”
“We are seeing more folks coming in who have lost savings, who have less clients coming in; are financially more overwhelmed,” Rice says. “That obviously affects self esteem, ability to care for family and meet obligations. A person reaches out into the environment for external mechanisms — like alcohol and sex — in order to cope.”
The counselors also know that when there is one issue, there is often another — 25 to 40 percent of people who have come to them in the last two years have mood disorders, often co-occurring with various addictions. These conditions often lead to suicidal thoughts.
Since 2005 there have been 15 known attorney suicides in Tennessee, Rice says. He points out though, that TLAP has had more than twice that number of what he calls nonevents. “We’ve been able to use the legal community and staff to prevent suicide.” Some reasons for the high suicide rate among lawyers are the combative nature of the work and isolation, with solo practitioners especially at risk, he says.
With early intervention, before a mood disorder spirals and begins to include substances, the outlook is pretty bright. With short-term help, people with mood disorders can often get to recovery in 12 months, Rice says. “With a psychiatrist, meds and cognitive behavior therapy, symptoms can alleviate in three to six months.” The recovery rate for mood disorders is higher than with substance dependence, he says.
Recovery doesn’t always stick the first time, but Gatrell is philosophical about relapse. “We don't call that failure. It’s part of the process. We try to shorten the time-frame of the relapse, and if the person returns to recovery, we consider that to be ongoing success.” Some people, she says, “get it” the first time and for others, it takes more times. Relapse can usually be attributed to something undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, Gatrell says. “People treated for addiction who also have bipolar disorder will often relapse until the mood disorder is identified. Sometimes there is childhood trauma, PTSD, or some other core issue that has to be discovered and addressed before they can get better,” she says.
“When someone comes back to the program, we embrace them. As they say in 12-step meetings, we tell them, ‘We’ll save your seat for you,’” she says. “Our job is to be there when they’re ready, and hope they don't die in the meantime.”
As a member of the legal profession, TLAP is available to you seven days a week, 24 hours a day, responding with its on-call service around the clock. “You don’t have to wait until Monday morning to get into the office for help,” Rice says.
Gatrell says that people sometimes think they will just do it themselves, but she stresses that TLAP has the contacts “and knows financially what’s what. It takes the pressure off of [the person]” for TLAP to handle it. She says they will coordinate all facets of treatment, working with family, firms, the court, insurance companies, whatever is needed.
“Trust us,” she says. “The call doesn’t cost you anything, and nothing ever gets worse by talking to us.”
- A 1990 study at Johns Hopkins University found that of 28 occupations studied, lawyers were the most likely to suffer depression, and were more than 3.6 times more likely than average to do so. Read more at http://lawvibe.com/depression-in-the-legal-profession-lawyers-are-the-most-likely-to-be-depressed/#ixzz1O8oz8ZGu
A major study by the National Institute for Safety and Health found that male lawyers between the ages of 20 and 64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than men of the same age in other occupations.
Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program
National Judges’ Helpline
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (ABA/COLAP) Judicial Assistance Initiative has established a list of judges throughout North America who are willing to share their recovery experiences with their peers on the bench. The Helpline is answered during normal business hours by the staff of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program in Austin.
ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs
The William B. Cain Foundation Revolving Loan
This foundation was set up to provide financial assistance to Tennessee lawyers and judges suffering from addiction, depression and other mental health illnesses, who lack the resources to pay for appropriate help. It’s a way to get treatment even if you can’t afford it. More information is available from the TLAP office.
Lawyers in Recovery
Lawyers with Depression
Take a test to check your stress level in about a minute
SUZANNE CRAIG ROBERTSON is editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal. The Tennessee Bar Association’s Access to Justice Coordinator Sarah Hayman contributed to this article.