Paul L. Caron

Friday, May 24, 2024

A BigLaw Suicide Survivor's Prescription For The Legal Profession's Mental Health Crisis

ABA Journal Op-Ed:  A BigLaw Suicide Survivor's Prescription for the Legal Profession's Mental Health Crisis, by Kent Halkett:

HalkettI was young, single, healthy, confident and “bulletproof” when I entered law school immediately after college in 1978. I did not have any personal experience with anyone suffering mental health challenges. Mental health education and services were the furthest things from my mind.

My blissful ignorance of the life and death issues presented by mental health came crashing down on me in the mid-1990s when, as a young partner in a BigLaw firm [Sidley Austin, Los Angeles], I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My condition drastically altered the arc of my career and, ultimately, culminated in my suicide attempt in mid-2015, as shared in “A BigLaw partner’s journey through clinical depression.”

I was completely blindsided by my clinical depression. At the outset, I did not have any idea what was happening to me. I did not know that help was available.

Law school had not alerted me and my classmates of the mental health crisis in the legal profession, prepared us to recognize the warning signs or taught us where to find help for those suffering with mental health issues. Similarly, the legal profession had not prepared me or my professional colleagues to deal with such things. But, candidly, even if such mental health information and services had been available and were voluntary in my career to that point, I would have ignored all of it as being irrelevant to my life and career.

In hindsight, I am painfully aware that I needed such basic mental health education before and during my legal career. Moreover, I firmly believe that all law students and attorneys should be exposed to, and required to study, such information for their own health and well-being. ...

Three years ago, in a Your Voice article, I hoped that “by publicly sharing my mental health journey, the legal profession will implement new approaches to find effective solutions to the urgent mental health and substance abuse problems in its ranks …” My prescription for combating the crisis was to mandate mental health education in law schools and the profession. Since then, some progress has been made in the law schools, but the overall crisis has worsened. The legal profession must do better.

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