When she was ABA President, Paulette Brown spearheaded an implicit bias initiative and said, Implicit bias can be and is manifested toward those who suffer from mental health issues, depression, anxiety, and substance problems in our profession. Let’s review the data from the often-cited 2016 ABA/Hazelden study on mental health concerns: a fifth of lawyers drink in unhealthy ways, and 28% percent of us meet criteria for depression at some time during our careers. In addition, at some time, 19% percent of us meet criteria for anxiety disorder, 23% percent for debilitating stress, and 11.5% percent reported suicidal thoughts. When asked which mental health concerns they had, 12.5% of the respondents identified ADHD as one of them.
Mental health issues are potentially disabling conditions; without help, those difficulties can become disabilities. There is a double bind for members of underrepresented groups, who can sometimes be more reluctant to ask for help because of other actual or perceived implicit or explicit biases. Individuals with chronic health conditions, mobility, and sensory disabilities may face daily roadblocks to success, which are, of course, stressful.
The well-being movement is about having what we need to do our best work. During the pandemic, many individuals with disabilities or potentially disabling conditions found some of those roadblocks removed. We learned new ways to do a lot of things, and we’re keeping some of them. Advancing access and equity means being willing to adapt and change. As more and more organizations create disability affinity groups, we are continuing to learn.
The Surgeon General’s Report on Workplace Well-Being recognized five critical elements: protection from harm, connection & community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth. We don’t typically think of the legal workplace as a place where we need protection from harm or safety. Yet for the person who is struggling or managing a mental health condition, they can feel anything but safe.
Mental health (including substance use) issues are the most common disabling conditions in our profession. Let’s be sure mental health and neurodiversity have a place at the diversity, equity, and inclusion table. Let’s break the stigma.