Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

Happy Summer

Happy Summer!
 
Happy Canada Day! Happy Summer! Happy Reopening!

How are you feeling, in the wake of the dramatic reduction in active COVID cases and the province’s bold plan to re-open for the summer season?

If you are feeling confident as you breathed in a sigh of relief and breathed out a “yippie-ki-yay”, please have fun, stay safe and be well.

However, not everyone is comfortable with the society-is-wide-open summer plan. If you are one of these people, please know that you are not alone. Many people say that they plan to continue to wear masks for indoor public activities and that they will likely only socialize with a limited group of people.

It is hard to let your guard down after more than 15 months of extreme caution and restriction. We worry about children under 12 who have not been vaccinated yet, and the Delta variant. We don’t all feel light-hearted about launching into summer.

What can we do?

First, recognize that being cautious about reopening is a normal reaction for some of us, just as embracing open activities is for others. We are all products of our own experiences and personalities. There is nothing wrong with being you.

But do watch for signs of depression and anxiety in yourself and those around you. We have been through a drawn-out and fatiguing series of lockdowns and rampant concerns for our health and the health of our loved ones. This strain has taken its toll on many of us.

Assist’s website contains general information about mental health issues.

How are you doing?

Some lawyers I talk to express concern about whether they may be depressed. The symptoms of depression include much more than a generalized sadness.

Here is a list of ten common symptoms of depression:
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Anger or irritability
  • Loss of energy
  • Self-loathing
  • Reckless behavior
  • Concentration problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains 
(https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.htm)
 
We are also hearing from lawyers who are experiencing anxiety. According to LawCare, the UK lawyer assistance organization, anxiety can be defined as “feelings of unease, worry and fear”. We will all experience some feelings of unease, worry and fear when encountering stressful situations, but what separates anxiety from these emotions is the intensity and duration of these feelings?

Common symptoms of anxiety include:
  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Sleep problems
  • Not being able to stay calm and still
  • Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Tense muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Overeating
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing depression or anxiety, please call our professional counselling office to book an appointment with one of our professional counsellors or see your family doctor.

We also have self-quizzes on our website. Self-quizzes are not a diagnostic tool, but they can help you identify if you are experiencing symptoms associated with mental health conditions. If you are unsure whether what you are experiencing is in the “normal” range, they can be a good starting place to start for learning about depression and anxiety.

When people experience anxiety or depression (or both), they can be apprehensive about reaching out for help because they don’t know what to expect. Calling our counselling office is straightforward. Your call to 1-877-498-6898 will be answered by a caring intake coordinator during office hours (8 am to 4pm weekdays). You will have to answer a few screening questions so that you can matched with a counsellor best suited to the issue you are experiencing but your first appointment with a counsellor will generally happen within a few days. Currently, the average time period between your call and your first appointment is 3.2 days. Please remember that this timeframe factors in lawyers’ own schedules and not just the counsellors’.

Visiting the counsellor’s office will be similar to visiting any other professional’s office. There will be a waiting room, but not all counsellors have front office staff, in which case instructions will be provided (e.g., “Please take a seat. The counsellor will come get you at the beginning of your appointment.”)
Your appointment will be booked for one hour, and you do not have to make any type of payment—Assist will be billed for your sessions that qualify under our program (4 sessions per person per issue per year.)

You will be assigned a sequential four-digit billing code when you book your first appointment, and that is all that I ever see. In order for me to oversee and manage the professional counselling services contract and to ensure accuracy of billings, I review each invoice, which contains 6 or more pages of itemized appointments, all identified solely by four-digit codes. I may see that 5724 has had two appointments in May, but I do not know who 5724 is, which counsellor they are seeing or what municipality the services occurred in.

Confidentiality is one of our paramount values. When I worked in-house and my corporation was moving toward a centralized, digitized record system, someone from HR asked me a question about how documents in a box should be described, and there was a file labeled “EAP re Jane Doe”. I was horrified! EAP access is supposed to be confidential, and it was my understanding that the EAP provider did not disclose the identities of employees using the program. Then I realized that this was a termination situation where we had agreed to provide a number of post-employment counselling sessions to the employee. It was a unique situation, and the EAP provider had to bill us for the correct number of sessions, but the employee should have been assigned an alias, like our 4-digit codes.

We know that not knowing what treatment for depression or anxiety might look like may also cause stress.

Many individuals experiencing anxiety find counselling, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), helpful. Mindfulness and breathing exercises can reduce anxious thoughts, and, under some circumstances, medication may be prescribed.

Law Care also recommends the following, in addition to counselling:
  • talking to someone you trust
  • breathing exercises
  • shifting your focus
  • listening to music
  • reassuring thoughts
  • physical exercise
  • keeping a diary
  • eating a healthy diet
  • complementary therapies
  • joining a support group
Assist holds a weekly 15-minute mindfulness session on Tuesdays at noon—this is an easy and safe way for you to check out how mindfulness might help you reduce feelings of panic and stress. That 15-minute session is not going to hold anxious thoughts at bay for a week, but you will learn to apply some of the breathing on your own. And we would love to have enough interest to have more frequent mindfulness breaks through the week!

Exercise is important! Check out our Wednesday online yoga class.

Counselling and anti-depressant medications are effective treatments for many forms of depression.

And like the treatment of anxiety, Law Care recommends lifestyle modifications, including:
  • exercise
  • friends and pets
  • complementary treatments
  • relaxation
  • avoidance of alcohol and drugs
  • self-help books
If you aren’t sure whether you are just having a bad patch or if there could be something more going on, please consider seeing one of our counsellors or your family doctor. Generally, mental health issues are most easily treated the earlier you seek help.

Please don’t worry that Assist might be paying for a counselling appointment where you will find out that you are actually doing quite well (although you may get a few suggestions and strategies while you are there.) We would rather have more lawyers being assessed early—or perhaps unnecessarily—than for lawyers to hide their pain and struggles thinking that they may not be bad enough to justify seeing someone. If feelings of depression or anxiety are interfering with your quality of life, I urge you to book an appointment.

Not only do we want you to receive reassurance and help you early in the recovery process, we also want to normalize the idea of a mental health checkup, just as you have a physical exam by your physician and regular checks with your dentist.

This morning, I received an email sharing an incredible video about suicide in the legal profession prepared by our sister organization in Texas, the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program.

We know that lawyers consistently rank near the top of the list of professions with the highest suicide rates. After cancer and heart disease, suicide is the third most common cause of death among lawyers in the US. Research indicates that lawyers are also the "most depressed" of 105 surveyed professions. Despite these facts, few lawyers are educated about depression and suicide prevention.
 
Just Ask: How We Must Stop Minding Our Own Business in the Legal World is a film to help provide the legal profession with essential information about how get help for oneself, colleagues, or family members.  The film includes personal stories from lawyers on how suicide and depression touched their lives and provides concrete ways to help colleagues or loved ones who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.  It emphasizes the importance of having a conversation with a person of concern, overviews resources, and emphasizes the importance of getting help.

The stories in this film are moving and informative. The film reminds me of our shared humanity and the importance of caring about each other, as lawyers of all ages and practice situations share how they have been touched by suicide. I urger everyone to watch this incredible film. I would be happy to set up a joint viewing session with a debrief if there is enough interest. Please let me know if you would like to do this.

There is a warning at the beginning of the film, so please exercise caution if this topic may cause distress to you.

*****

As we get ready to start summer, and as our society reopens, let’s take the time to notice how the people around us are doing. If someone appears to be struggling or not acting like themselves, please ask them how they are. Having someone notice how we are doing and taking the time to ask can have a lifesaving impact. You can share information about Assist, and our website has resources that are not limited to the legal profession.

Those of us who are prone to worry may worry that we won’t know what to do if we ask someone how they are doing and they tell us that they are experiencing suicidal ideations. If that happens, you can call Assist for 24/7--1-877-498-6898*—for assistance by a senior registered psychologist who will provide immediate support to you, regardless of whether the person who is in crisis is a lawyer, articling student, law student or family member because you are one of “ours” and you are helping someone in crisis.

And regardless of where you are on the spectrum of feelings about our society reopening, my message is the same: have fun, be safe and stay well (and remember to ask people how they really are.)
 
Loraine

*Occasionally, I receive feedback that someone has called our 24/7 line and it wasn’t picked up by a person so they hang up. We are not a crisis line, manned with volunteers around the clock. When you call after hours, your call will be directed to voicemail. Do not hang up! Follow the prompts (pressing 0) and you will be connected with the counsellor who is handling crisis calls.