Please Do Not Suffer in Silence

City Bar President Sheila S. Boston

By Sheila S. Boston, President, New York City Bar Association

As we approach a new year, I would like to take a moment to re-emphasize the importance of taking good care of ourselves mentally as well as physically. We have all experienced trauma in different ways over the past two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I can personally attest to moments of struggling with all the challenges I have been facing both personally and professionally during this time.

I care about the health of our New York City legal community. I care about the health of each one of you! It is imperative for each of us to be mindful of our mental health if we wish to function at our best and provide excellent legal services to clients. That is why I keep placing mental health front and center whenever I have the privilege of communicating with you or representing this association in public settings. It is why mental health and wellness is one of the six pillars of what I call the Bar of Hope.

If, like me, you have had your bouts with the anxiety, stress and isolation that the pandemic has wrought, I think it’s helpful to understand that you are not alone. “Nervous is the new normal,” said Dr. Vivian Pender, president of the American Psychiatric Association. “Uncertainty makes people feel anxious.” Perhaps most troubling is the effect the pandemic has had on young people. This fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association jointly declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. This was echoed in a recent statement by the highest medical official in our nation — Surgeon General Vivek H. Murphy — on the rising mental health issues experienced by children, adolescents, and young adults. “The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation,” he said.

We should keep in mind that “young adults” include law students and a significant portion of our newly admitted attorneys, and that these young adults are the future of our profession. That’s among the reasons we must work to end the stigma attached to psychological and emotional issues and appropriate therapy services to address them.

I do see hopeful signs on this front. The “Well-Being Pledge” put forth by the ABA in 2016 and signed by big law firms was a big blow to stigma. Organizations like the City Bar are drumming up support for a “Mental Health, Substance Use and Lawyer Well-Being” CLE  requirement for New York attorneys. And, of course, the City Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program continues to provide free, confidential services to attorneys, judges, law students and their family members in New York City who are struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, depression, anxiety and stress, as well as other addictions and mental health issues, at 212.302.5787 (24/7).

The increasing normalization and acceptance of mental health issues is a sign of hope. The minimization of stigma is perhaps quickened by our recognition that we’re all in the same boat. The same way you can search and can read all about your physical symptoms on WebMD or the Mayo Clinic’s website, you can now read about “COVID-19 and Your Mental Health,” with tips for self-care strategies.

Meditation, prayer and talking with close friends have helped me immensely, as has just being aware of my emotional state and being proactive in taking good care of myself. I commend to you the toolkit created by our Mindfulness and Well-Being in Law Committee. It has resources and mindful exercises in the six dimensions of well-being identified by the ABA: occupational satisfaction, emotional needs, physical fitness, intellectual endeavors, spiritual development, and social connection.

Above all, let’s continue to be there for one another, and to support one another in our Bar of Hope.

I wish you, and us all, health and happiness this holiday season and in the new year.