Lawyer Darryl Singer is a peer volunteer at the Member Assistance Program (MAP) and sits on the Alumni Board of Osgoode Hall Law School.
Last February, when The Globe and Mail published my story of addiction to and recovery from OxyContin, I got more than 200 e-mails from lawyers and judges all across Canada with this sentiment: "This really needs to be said."
Dozens of lawyers who contacted me were pleading for help and didn't know where to turn. Others were still unsure they had a problem and wanted my opinion. Newsflash: if you have to ask, you probably are an addict. And spouses and colleagues of lawyers e-mailed with variations of "my husband/brother/law partner has a drinking/cocaine/gambling problem and I don't know how to help."
The rates of addiction and mental-health issues for lawyers are typically 2.5 to 3.5 times the national average.
A 2016 study by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Hazelden Foundation found that 21 per cent of lawyers have a drinking problem; 28 per cent struggle with depression and 19 per cent with anxiety. The ABA has issued a 73-page report on how to improve lawyers' well-being.
While each case is different, there is certain advice I give to everyone if a lawyer you know is suffering from an addiction. Here is a non-exhaustive list of seven things you can do to help an addict:
1. Assess behaviour
You must first understand the source of the problem. What you looking for is marked, ongoing deviances in normal behaviour that clue you in to a possible addiction. Missing money, unexplained absences, habitually punctual people suddenly consistently late, missing court dates and appointments. Ask with open arms if everything is okay.
2. Let them know you're there
Talk to the person. Demonstrate compassion in the face of distress. Let them know that you do not judge their behaviour and are there to help. While the approach must be compassionate, it must also demonstrate honest feedback. The person must be told exactly how they hurt you and why they must get help. This can be done by way of an intervention if you don't want to do it alone.
Once you have their attention and they admit to the problem, the time for you to talk is over. Now, you must listen. This initial listening may take place over a period of days or even weeks. Remember that this is all about them and not you.
4. Offer practical help
Make sure they call their family doctor. In Ontario, lawyers have access at no cost to the confidential Member Assistance Program (MAP) through the Law Society. This is the first place I generally refer lawyers. MAP will provide them with peer support (a lawyer who has been through the same thing) to act as a mentor and sounding board; set up any other type of professional treatment that is not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (MAP will cover those costs); and connect the lawyer to OHIP-funded treatment and rehab programs. You may also wish to help the lawyer in finding a treatment program. Often, the lawyer with an addiction agrees to go to such a program, but is in no state to take proactive steps. Offer to make phone calls on their behalf or even drive them to appointments.
5. Stay involved
Even if the lawyer has surrounded himself or herself with professional support, they still need you. The personal connection you have with the individual is a relationship of paramount importance. There may be times during their recovery where they do not need you as frequently, and hopefully over time they need your support less and less, but it is imperative you let them know that you are always there. Tell them that if they relapse, they can talk to you about it. Many addicts are unsuccessful in their first attempt at recovery. And reintegration into routine life after recovery can be difficult. Be there for them.
6. Balance your involvement
Do not put your own life into turmoil and risk your own health, relationships and career to help this person. Recovery is the addict's responsibility. There is only so much you can do, and if the lawyer is not successful in recovery, it is not your fault. If you are ground down, you are in no position to help others.
7. Addiction is not a straight line from A to B
Don't be surprised when the first (or second, or third) time that you approach the lawyer with an addiction, they weave a web of lies to convince you they are fine. In this case, give it some time, and try again.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.