Focus On

Wellness: Five ways pandemic impacts mental health | Darryl Singer

Friday, June 12, 2020 @ 8:55 AM | By Darryl Singer


Darryl Singer %>
Darryl Singer
Wow! Time flies when you can’t leave your house! I write monthly in this space, and I didn’t realize until I checked that this is the fourth column I’ve written during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first three had a positive slant. This one does not. Going into our fourth month of what is essentially a lockdown, we are starting to see some cracks appearing in the armour of our profession. Not as a whole, but individually.

In fact, lawyers, the profession, the court system and access to justice may in the long run be better off as a result of CODID-19. Implementation of technology, long overdue, has been forced on the courts and the government have responded with changes that will be with us long after the pandemic. Many of us, while missing the camaraderie of the office and courthouses, have adapted well and truth be told, are not so anxious to return to a time where one has to get dressed up every morning and sit in traffic. All of which has been great for larger firms and those in relatively unaffected practice areas like personal injury, commercial litigation and family law. But to use the Bell Canada slogan on the issue of mental health, “Let’s Talk.”

These four months have been nothing short of hell for alcoholics, addicts and those suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (globally what I call in shorthand “AMH issues”). Here are five reasons why:

1. Idleness: It is the devil’s playground. Whether in the throes of AMH issues, trying to recover from them, or having put the issues behind you, the best thing is to be busy. Having a sense of purpose, places to go and people to see occupy one’s day. Conversely, if one lives alone and is sitting around all day locked in one’s house, there’s not a lot to do. Those lawyers whose practice areas have been essentially come to a full stop (criminal and many solo practitioners) or who have been laid off are hardest hit. For the addict, the desire to use goes through the roof, even if just to fill the time and quell the restlessness. For the anxious and the depressed, it becomes near impossible not to spiral into a very dark place.

2. Communication: People instinctively need people. For those with AMH issues, having a support network of people to talk to, people who will hug you when you’re down and provide the needed physical contact, are tremendously important. Struggling on one’s own is impossible.

3. Professional help: Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts attend 12-step meetings to keep them sober. Those with depression and anxiety rely on a network of doctors, therapists and other specialists. Treating practitioners are key contacts in the lives of those people. The patients rely upon those clinicians for professional assistance that simply cannot be provided by well-meaning but untrained friends, family or colleagues.

4. Uncertainty: About tomorrow, literally and figuratively. Control over one’s life allows one to plan, strategize, set goals and work with family and professional colleagues towards something. For those lawyers who remain out of work, or those barely getting by with no immediate prospects, that uncertainty exacerbates whatever underlying AMH issues existed. In many cases, it brings out long dormant issues, and can even create issues that were never present.

5. Money: Money matters. On the most obvious level it pays our bills. Inability to pay one’s regular bills is often a factor in exacerbating AMH issues. But in our profession, financial success is more than that. It is often used by clients and colleagues to measure one’s worth (this is clearly wrong-headed, but it remains a sad reality). It allows lawyers who own their own firms to continue to pay their staff. Having to lay off or terminate people you like and who have been loyal to you can be heart wrenching, knowing that they too will be experiencing financial pain for the foreseeable future.

This year marks 10 years since my recovery (more on that in my next column). I have had the good fortune during this lockdown to have a practice that can continue to operate remotely. I have the virtual and telephone support of my colleagues daily, and a comfortable home life. I have achieved a level of contentedness in my life and confidence in who I am. But I have thought many times in the last four months, if this pandemic happened in 2007 and 2008 when I was in the throes of my addiction, I would likely have ended up overdosing. And if it had happened in 2009, my year of recovery, I am not sure I would have been able to sustain the motivation that was required to do the work necessary every day for the better part of a year to really kill the demons and bury them for good.

Real recovery takes time and it is the hardest thing I have ever done. There were times where it seemed the light at the end of the tunnel was so far away it would never come. But I could always see that light. And I had contact daily with a team of doctors, therapists and peer mentors, not to mention family and friends, to keep me focused on that light. Had we had a crisis like COVID-19 then, I am not sure I would have seen the light and I certainly would have regressed rather than recovered.

So be kind to those around you who might be struggling. Check in on them frequently and listen when they need to talk. Their struggles are real, and they have been amplified.

Darryl Singer is head of commercial and civil litigation at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP in Toronto and a volunteer with the Members’ Assistance Plan. If you or a colleague is struggling, reach out to the MAP at 1-855-403-8922 for confidential assistance.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to
The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Richard Skinulis at Richard.Skinulis@lexisnexis.ca or call 437-828-6772.