May is mental health month, and lawyers are among those seeking help

May is mental health month, and lawyers are among those seeking help

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Crisis calls from Hawaii lawyers are on the rise due to the pandemic. It’s a profession that’s already high stress.

The Hawaii Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was created by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald after after a study from the national task force showed attorneys reported high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. That was before the pandemic hit.

"What we are going through is really normal and natural and it's okay to seek help. I have sought help when I needed it in the past," said Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna, who co-chairs the task force.

May is Mental Health Month and the task force’s mission has taken on new meaning during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We are stressed. It's an anxiety-ridden time," said McKenna.

"We keep taking about social distancing and I think that is an inappropriate term because when I thought I needed to socially distance, I realized that I was internalizing that and not contacting people. We should be using the term physical distancing," she added.

The Attorneys and Judges Assistance Program helps lawyers and students who may be suffering burnout, depression or substance abuse and its executive director, Liam Deeley, says calls to the agency have gone up due to the pandemic. For some, the fear of shutting down their practice can be overwhelming.

"They are expecting the worst-case scenario so they're already imagining them going bankrupt and not being able to turn in money," he said.

"We are supposed to be the ones dispensing advice and knowing better. A lot us are know-it-alls," said Louise Ing, co-chair, Hawaii Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being

With roughly 5,500 attorneys in Hawaii, the task force says helping lawyers with self-care helps the public.

"Even lawyers need help and we need help not just for ourselves. We need help to be able to serve better," said Ing.

The task force says it important to reach out to others and there's no shame in getting help.

For more information, lawyers and law students can call or text Hawaii AAP at 808-260-6415.

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