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More Than The Holiday Blues: How Your Firm Can Combat Employee Anxiety & Depression

Thanksgiving sparks the beginning of family get-togethers, year-end deadlines, and, as a result, mental health concerns.

Considering this contentious, recent election coincides with the arrival of holidays already associated with anxiety, stress, and drinking way too much, it’s important to discuss how your law firm or business will handle behavioral health problems of its employees this season.

The American Bar Association (ABA) recently partnered with Hazelden and reported findings from its study on the rates of substance use and other mental health concerns among lawyers in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. While they may not surprise you, the results can help law firm managers better prepare for a potentially dicey December.

One of the more interesting takeaways was that younger lawyers are at higher risk for abusing alcohol. Apparently attorneys in the first 10 years of their practice experience the highest rates of problematic use (28.9%), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6), reports Above The Law blog.

It goes without saying that anxiety and stress are highly correlated with alcohol abuse. And, the study somberly states, “ubiquity of alcohol in the legal professional culture certainly demonstrates both its ready availability and social acceptability, should one choose to cope with their mental health problems in that manner,” (via ATL).

It’s easy to think that symptoms of these behavioral problems would be evident. If younger associates are starting to smell of alcohol or miss deadlines, certainly that’s cause for concern.

However, extreme reactions to stress and anxiety can happen under the radar. Take, for instance, a sad story about a law graduate who recently committed suicide after failing the California Bar Exam.

The graduate’s parents issued a statement. In addition to expression surprise, they implored other students to reach out for support.

“Our son Brian Christopher Grauman unexpectedly took his own life on Friday evening 18 Nov 2016, after learning he did not pass the California Bar Exam. We are still trying to understand such an extreme reaction by Brian. We know he loved studying and debating law, and he was intently focused on fulfilling his dream of practicing law in the courtroom….”

“It appears the idea of repeating the last 7 months of his life to again prepare for the Bar Exam and then once more nervously await months for the results was too much for him. We deeply regret that he did not take the time to talk to anyone after learning his exam results.”

In the ideal world, a law firm manager can sense his or her associate’s breaking point. But, in reality, the human emotional state can be fragile and unpredictable.

That’s why it’s really important to bring these issues out into the open and provide a forum for your employees to express their anxieties, desires, and concerns.

Here’s how you can do it.

First, survey your associates to find out how prevalent these issues are within your firm. Ensure its anonymity. Second, confirm with your healthcare provider that your firm’s employees have affordable access to counseling and other mental health services. Circulate these options in a firm-wide memo.

Finally, make it clear to your office that you take mental health seriously by offering preventative activities, such as gym memberships, gift certificates to local spas, bring in a masseur this month for 15-minutes massages, or invite a yoga teacher to offer classes before work for a week to introduce associates to the sport.

Consider making wellness a priority and outlet your employees’ happiness, not happy hour. You won’t just survive this holiday season—you’ll thrive.

 

-WB

For more ideas about how to generate a productive, thriving law firm, learn more from The Center for Competitive Management’s webinars here.

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