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THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPROVING THE MENTAL-HEALTH SYSTEM

“Mental health issues touch every facet of our personal and professional lives from the clients we serve; to the lawyers, judges, and colleagues we depend on to provide effective assistance of or counsel; to our friends and family members.” – Michael J. Higer

In the Florida Bar Journal article Mental Health: The Issue of Our Time, Michael Higer highlights the widespread effect mental illness has in the field of law and resolutely argues for the importance of improvement in the mental health treatment system. Higer underlines the influence of mental illness in areas such as the criminal justice system, psychiatric institutions, foster care, domestic abuse, and suicides. 
Higer uses various additional statistical information to give insight into the contemporary effects of mental illness:

  • In the United States, more than two million people with serious mental illnesses are arrested annually and booked in jail.
  • 550,000 individuals with mental illnesses are housed in local, state, and federal correctional facilities and another 900,000 under correctional control in the community.
  • Between 60 to 90 percent of women who experience domestic violence have significant mental-health issues.
  • 3.3 million children witness parental domestic violence that have long-term effects.
  • During economic downturn 2005 and 2010, suicide rates increased from 32.9 to 37.5 percent.

Higer uses this information to not only mention the impacts on mental illnesses, but also advocates for the improvement in the treatment of the mentally ill especially since the legal field particularly feels the effects.              Higer cites research conducted by John Hopkins University and the Florida Bar to conclude:

  • Lawyers experience depression at a rate 3.6 times that of other professions.
  • Between 21 and 36 percent of lawyers qualified as problem drinkers.
  • Approximately 28 percent were struggling with some form of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Higer stresses although the mental health issues in lawyers are worse, the problems relating to Florida lawyers are even worse. “In 2015,” he said. “a membership survey found that 33 percent of Florida lawyers saw high stress as a significant challenge while 32 percent of respondents said balancing work and family life was a significant challenge.” With all this data, statistics, and research, Higer makes a compelling argument about the significant impact of mental health issues among lawyers and promotes action in effectively reforming the mental health treatment system. Additionally, Higer uses the mode of persuasion kairos by mentioning the Parkland School Shooting and the devastating impacts untreated mental health issues can entail.

After exposing the reader to all sorts of problems and consequences of mental health and mental illness treatment in the general public and lawyers specifically, Higer concludes the article by providing solutions to combat these vital issues. Higer mentions two special committees that the Florida Bar created to help treatment of mental illness: Health and Wellness of lawyers and 13-member panel. Higer additionally mentions the Florida Mental Health Act, and future plans such as the Florida Bar Board of Governors which plans on completing a comprehensive examination of how mental-health issues are addressed in the justice system and how it can be improved. Overall, this article by Michael Higer is an important one as he efficaciously brings the vital issue of mental health into the conversation as well as indicate sensible solutions.

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