Committing to your well-being on Mental Health Day – October 10

This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. You can connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.

When I was in law school, I was known for remembering National [XYZ] Day. Even though I’m lactose intolerant, I’d let everyone know when it was National Cheese Day (June 4th) or National Pizza Day (February 9th). I’ve never had a dog of my own and yet you could find me sharing cute puppy pictures on National Dog Day (August 26th).

I discovered the “National Day Calendar” after some strange days started popping up on my radar, including National Tell a Joke Day and National Talk Like a Pirate Day. I eventually stumbled upon, with a landing page that proudly boasts “Where the World Gathers to Celebrate Every Day.” A familiar message from my childhood comes to mind, when my mom used to tell us that “every day should be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in our household.”

The days that make it on the official calendar – only 25 of 20,000 applications are approved each year, according to this article – are supposed to be “fun, family-friendly, unique, relevant to the world.” Perhaps surprisingly, then, World Mental Health Day can be found on the calendar. I know this day wasn’t created by this organization specifically, but it’s interesting to me that it still fits under the website’s criteria. No one could deny that the topic is relevant to the world, but that doesn’t seem like the only reason it deserves a day of hashtags. The website describes the day by stating, “Mental health is a hot topic. This is good news. It means the stigma for mental health issues is slowly going away.”

“Slowly.” I sometimes find that description to be frustratingly applicable in the legal industry. While the ABA and other entities have been successfully reshaping the landscape of lawyer well-being for several years now, I often hear from law students and new attorneys that are completely unaware that a Lawyers Assistance Program exists in each state. I continue to see humor and sarcasm used when discussing alcoholism in the profession or to point out the number of overworked and unhappy attorneys. I’m still witnessing a disastrously rigid approach to state licensing requirements during a pandemic, proving that well-being is not the foremost consideration for certain institutions. And I personally know attorneys struggling with depression and substance abuse who still refuse to seek help. Why? For a multitude of reasons including fear, shame, pride, or a perfectionist mentality. But sometimes, the answer is that someone doesn’t care about themselves or they don’t think they deserve help or happiness. . .and those seem to be the most troublesome barriers.

As an advocate, part of my own mental health journey has included accepting that there’s only so much we can do, on a collective level, to change the culture and address mental health issues in the legal profession. In the end, real change starts with the individual.

This idea was brought up in a powerful way during a recent ABA webinar I attended, titled “Exploring the Intersection of Racial Justice, Social Activism, and Mental Health.” The speaker, Rhonda Magee, is the author of the book The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness. Let’s sit with those last five words for a second: transforming our communities through mindfulness. Wow. What I’ve heard some lawyers dismiss as “too simple” a practice or one that is “not enough” to provide a substantial path forward when overcoming mental health issues, others have found to be transformational on a communal level. How can that be?

One of the slides during the webinar said, “Mental health is foundational to thriving, healing, and experiencing personal justice.” Perhaps these days, we often associate justice and social change with large-scale movements and systemic overhauls within institutions. I’d even argue that it’s rare for people to think of the foundation of justice as the individual. Yet that’s exactly what Rhonda’s teachings tell and show us so profoundly, both in her express messages and in the example she sets for her students and colleagues every day. Access to resources, such as therapy, programs, and medications, is undeniably important, but we can also “draw on ourselves as a resource,” she says. Growth and healing are ongoing and inner work is critical to achieving both. I can’t help but wonder how different our communities would be if every law student, law professor, lawyer, and judge recognized that the best way to achieve societal justice starts with personal justice, in the form of mental health.

The ABA encourages the legal community to commit to your well-being this Saturday, October 10th for Mental Health Day. If you’re at a loss for where to start, look to Rhonda’s guidance once more: make a “commitment to doing what you can.” That means starting with basic mental health practices. Those might include deepening your awareness, being receptive to loved ones who express concern for your well-being, figuring out what resources are ideal for your specific experience, bravely sharing your struggles, or having the courage to seek professional help. 

3 thoughts on “Committing to your well-being on Mental Health Day – October 10

  1. Jessica, Thank you for this beautiful post. We were so honored to have over 200 participants for our webinar to hear Rhonda’s meaningful message. Let’s continue the conversation.

    • Thanks for reading, Janet! That is wonderful news and makes me hopeful that more people will join our mission. We must absolutely continue this dialogue in order to move forward.

  2. Jessica , thank you for shining a light on mental well-being and raising awareness of the awesome efforts of the ABA and others to provide much needed help to those in the legal industry.
    The crux is in your statement, “societal justice starts with personal justice, in the form of mental health.” Everyone benefits.
    Keep up the good work!

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