Introducing the Wellness eBulletin
We are pleased to announce that we are partnering with the Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society (Assist) to publish a quarterly Wellness eBulletin. Each Wellness eBulletin will focus on mental and physical health topics. If you have suggestions for topics to cover, we encourage you to email us.
We want to keep the conversations going within the legal profession to help reduce the stigma associated with asking for help. As the regulator of the legal profession in Alberta, we want to support lawyers so that you can continue to deliver high quality legal services in the public interest.
When the Benchers approved the 2020 - 2024 Strategic Plan, they recognized that competence and wellness are inextricably linked. While you may be competent to practise law today, if you are not physically or mentally well down the road, it is only a matter a time before competence can begin to break down bringing consequences to all aspects of your life. Now, it is more important than ever to make physical and mental health a priority for yourself, in both your personal and professional lives.
We extend our well wishes to all Alberta lawyers and students as we all continue to navigate these changing times. On top of your own issues, it is also not easy bearing the burden of helping clients get through hardships exacerbated by the pandemic such as family issues, financial struggles, estate planning and more. As always, our Practice Advisors are available as a free and confidential service to help Alberta lawyers, legal support staff and articling students with legal, ethical and practice inquiries. Please reach out for help if needed.
Lastly, World Mental Health Day was recently recognized by the World Health Organization in October, with this year's campaign focusing on many of the difficult mental, financial and physical circumstances arising out the pandemic. While it is good to have a designated day to reflect on these issues, it is also important that these issues and conversations remain relevant year-round. If you or any of your colleagues may need help, we are fortunate to have the resources of Assist available to lawyers, students and your families.
Elizabeth J. Osler, QC
Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director
A Note from Assist: Is COVID Making You Sad?
Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society (Assist) is pleased to partner with the Law Society in the quarterly Wellness eBulletin. Assist is an organization dedicated to lawyer well-being. We provide confidential and free non-judgmental professional counselling, peer support, education and awareness resources and inclusive communities.
Lawyers experience depression, anxiety and substance abuse at much higher rates than the general population
. Assist is seeing the impact that protracted periods of stressful living has had on Alberta lawyers, students, and families. Twenty-three per cent of the individuals accessing our professional counselling program over the last several months cite stress related to COVID-19 as a key factor in their decision to see a counsellor.
We are now facing an additional mental health challenge: shorter days and cooler temperatures, which will drive us indoors even more.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a clinical diagnosis included in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is linked to biochemical changes in the brain caused by decreased exposure to sunlight. Decreased exposure to sunlight causes changes to our circadian rhythm, leaving about five per cent of the population “out of step”.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Change in sleep and appetite
- Loss of energy/increased fatigue
- Difficulty in concentrating and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Suicidal ideation can occur, but there is a wide range of severity of symptoms. Most SAD cases occur in fall and early winter as we experience shorter days and less sunlight. SAD is more common in climates where there are significant changes in temperature and amount of daylight (like ours). Conventional treatment for SAD includes light therapy lamps, usually first thing in the morning, to replicate the positive effects of sunlight.
However, just because it is fall or winter does not mean that your feelings of depression are caused by decreased exposure to sunlight. Depression has many causes, from neurotransmitter breakdowns to physical illness to hormonal imbalance to sleep deprivation to genetics, and effective treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Not every case of the winter blues is SAD or will respond to light therapy, so what else can we do?
- Ensure that you have a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis.
- Consider making a plan to exercise with a friend (in a socially-distanced way) since we are less likely to cancel on another person than on ourselves.
- Get sufficient sleep consistently.
- Spend more time outdoors when the sun is shining.
- Consider counselling as the days get shorter to help you develop strategies and helpful thinking processes. Proactive counselling is covered through Assist’s program, just call 1.877.498.6898.
- Talk to your family doctor.
- Participate in meditation, mindfulness and yoga to help with depressed thinking. Check out Assist’s Tuesday 15-minute mindfulness breaks at noon and our free online yoga class on Wednesday at noon.
Being good to ourselves may mean pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and cooking healthy meals, forcing ourselves to exercise and making plans to interact with family and friends, even though lying on the sofa, watching Netflix and eating junk food is more appealing.
Isolation and loneliness are precursors to depression, and we are all at greater risk of becoming isolated and lonely as we physically distance. Connecting with people using electronic communications is not the same as meeting face-to-face, but it is better than not connecting at all. Remember that you can always drop in online to Assist’s Red Mug Coffee Circles on Mondays where you can connect with other lawyers and students and discuss issues in the practice of law.
If you are not feeling like yourself, please consider chatting with one of our professional counsellors. You should not wait until depression is fully manifested. Most issues are more easily resolved the earlier people come in.
Executive Director, Assist
Mental Health in the Legal Profession: Your Obligations & How to Help
At some point in your legal career, you may encounter another lawyer who is suffering from a mental health crisis, compromising their ability to practise. While you hope this never happens, research suggests that lawyers are at a much higher risk of mental health concerns than other professions and the general population. Lawyers may be more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, dementia, addiction or other mental health concerns.
If you suspect a mental health issue is affecting another lawyer’s practice, what should you do?
- how to address the issue,
- professional obligations for reporting, and
- resources for getting help and contingency planning.
Family Violence Prevention Month
November is Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta. Our province reports the third highest rate of self-reported spousal violence among Canadian provinces.
Throughout the month of November, the Government of Alberta has launched a campaign to increase awareness of the resources and supports available so we can work together to end family violence and build healthier relationships in our communities.
Here are a few examples of resources and supports available:
- The Family Violence Info Line (403.310.1818) is available toll-free to Albertans 24/7 in over 170 languages.
The Family Violence Info Line chat is available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in English.
Emergency shelters throughout the province provide safe locations to stay for people fleeing violent or abusive situations.
Albertans can show their support by hosting events during November and using the hashtags #GoPurpleAB