The Washington Post recently had a story about Alfred Postell, a homeless schizophrenic who also happened to go to law school with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Postell graduated from Harvard Law in 1979 with Roberts, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and D.C. Superior Court Judge Thomas Motley, among others.
In the article, Postell found himself in court before Motley. During his hearing, Postell informed Motley that he, too, was a lawyer but was ignored until Postell said he graduated from Harvard Law in 1979. The story then goes into excruciating detail about Mr. Postell’s physical condition, his belongings and takes a look back about his life prior to his illness through various accounts of people who knew him.
What disturbed me about the article, although not likely the author’s intent, was the focus on comparing and contrasting Postell’s life to the paths of his well-known law school classmates. The article does not make light of the Postell’s mental health but it does not address the implications of Postell’s condition or how this legal mind could no longer contribute to society.
Mental health is a huge issue facing our legal community and lawyers, like most folks, don’t want to address it. So, in some ways, it was commendable that this article talked about mental health and tried to humanize it through Postell. But I want to move beyond talking about this to really understanding the impact and finding resources for those afflicted.
Judge Pamila Brown, the new president of the Maryland State Bar Association, acknowledged wellness as a key issue for her upcoming year in office. The American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer’s Division has launched “Fit to Practice,” which seeks to bring more awareness and resources to mental health and wellness issues. Lawyers face higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population.
So let’s not compare our lives with those afflicted, but let’s try to lift and stay aware of our own mental health and lend a hand to a colleague in need so he/she won’t suffer in silence or alone. We need to talk about it and do more until we can bring real change and real voices to the people suffering.
Georgia and South Carolina are tackling this issue head-on because of the number of attorney suicides there. Both states have mandatory CLEs on mental health. I am not suggesting we need something similar in Maryland but I’m thankful Judge Brown has decided to bring the issue home and hope it will encourage Maryland lawyers to talk about and to make wellness (physical and mental) a priority.
Do you think a wellness course or a “Fit to Practice” course should be encouraged in law schools?